The Power of Place: FishEyes Dances Into Aquarium, Helping Build a Community

By Jenny Cornuelle Krusoe

You may wonder what dance has to do with ocean research, school curricula or job creation. But it matters more than you can guess when it comes to building a strong, resilient community of diverse skills, opportunities and people.

So, while AltaSea is focused on an ambitious program to transform one of the oldest parts of the Port of Los Angeles into a thriving center for ocean-based scientific research, STEM education and sustainable BlueTech business incubation, it’s also strongly supporting efforts to connect arts and culture with San Pedro and surrounding Portside communities.

One good example is the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, which creates innovative dance experiences in non-traditional places. Their goal is to provide learning opportunities in diverse neighborhoods, inviting audiences and artists to engage with one another and connect in new ways.

Last year, the group premiered FishEyes during the summer-long Grand Performances arts showcase in Downtown Los Angeles. Later, the innovative company toured the 15-foot-long steel fish — the production’s centerpiece — around Los Angeles, stopping in parks and public spaces for workshops, residencies and performances.

This week, the Duckler troupe began their first 2017 FishEyes workshops, at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, an AltaSea partner.

As part of the workshops, Duckler dancers will teach San Pedro-area students about dance and the environment, and how art can address and inform larger, more complex topics. The troupe’s approach complements AltaSea’s goal to ignite passion and commitment about the ocean’s critical role in our planet’s sustainability by creating programs that immerse and engage children and adults.

Founded in 1985 by Heidi Duckler, who remains Artistic/Executive Director and choreographer, the troupe was originally named Collage Dance Theatre.

Its first site-specific work was Laundromatinee, staged in a local laundromat. As dancers performed amid rumbling washers and dryers, Laundromatinee captured a collage ethos that mixed art, movement, pop culture and interactivity in found spaces.

AltaSea is creating something of its own creative community collage, but of a different kind, mixing science research, business incubation and STEM education. But we understand the links between the artistic/cultural and scientific/education/business sides in building a better place for us all. In each case, people are investing in the social and economic capital of our shared physical space.

The Port of Los Angeles, along with the Port of Long Beach, comprises the nation’s busiest shipping center. San Pedro and neighboring communities rely on the ports for jobs, economic stability and much else. But the ports can only thrive when they are part of a broader investment in the community.

That investment requires continued effort creating a place for us all that feeds not just our economic but also our cultural, spiritual and artistic needs. In the language of urban design, it’s known as creative placemaking.

A recent white paper for the Mayors’ Institute on City Design highlights the importance of creative placemaking to developing communities.

Public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of an area, especially around arts and cultural activities and physical spaces. Creative placemaking animates those public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, makes local businesses more viable and improves public safety. 

In turn, these creative locales foster entrepreneurs and cultural industries that generate jobs and income, spin off new products and services, and attract and retain unrelated businesses and skilled workers, who just like living there. Basically, creative placemaking suggests that combining culture and livability with investments in education, economic development and long-term research can transform a community over time.

More recent approaches also call for a decentralized portfolio of spaces that act as creative crucibles. Arts and culture exist next to private-sector export and retail businesses and mixed-income housing. Often, these very different uses may be housed in formerly vacant and underused buildings and lots, further enhancing the community.

On April 14, the Duckler dance troupe will conclude their San Pedro residency with a performance of FishEyes, exploring water and drought issues through site-specific choreography around that giant stainless-steel fish. It will be a catalyst for conversation about environmental issues and water conservation, and about using art as a lens to examine those issues.

We are thrilled to announce on June 24th, the Heidi Ducker dancers will return to the AltaSea campus to perform another site specific work – Beyond the Waterfront with the LA Opera.

And, as unusual as some may think dancing around a fish may be, it’s another opportunity to connect all the parts of San Pedro and build a stronger community that benefits us all. Please join us and as we collaborate with the aquarium, the Duckler dance troupe, and our many other scientific and business partners in continuing to build the best community we can. 

Event Information:

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre performance of FishEyes

7 pm, April 14, 2017

Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

3720 Stephen White Drive, San Pedro, CA

The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.

Secure your tickets here.


Jenny Cornuelle Krusoe is the executive director of AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles. Krusoe, a California native based in San Pedro, has a national reputation as a nonprofit executive and senior advisor on organizational and program design and fund development. She is also a longtime leader in the Los Angeles arts community. Krusoe has been a member of the leadership team since the innovative ocean sustainability and marine science campus was first conceived.

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