By BARRY LANK

Back in 2006, when Eliot Sekuler still ran the P.R. Department at Universal, he along with his, wife Jain, and what he called “a group of very enthusiastic co-founders” organized the first Lummis Day. That first year, it just was a one-day festival, drawing about 1,000 people for music, poetry, dance and art.

This year Sekuler, now 69 years old, says he expects between 5,000 and 10,000 people to attend a three-day festival — now called Lummis Days — in several venues throughout Northeast L.A. The festival begins on Friday, June 1.

While organizing Lummis Days now takes up a good deal of his time in retirement, Sekuler, who lives in Mount Washington,  still finds time for other activities. “I paint, I write, and I travel. I wave signs at demonstrations and I talk back to the evening news,” he said.

We asked Sekuler about the festival’s past and present.

Why did you start the Lummis festival?

Lummis Days was conceived by a group of neighborhood activists as a means of bringing together different parts of our community.

In a city famous for its diversity, Northeast L.A. may be the most diverse, the most multi-cultural. My wife, Jain Sekuler, and I thought about it one day when we were out walking our dogs. On the hillside street where we live, we have several Mexican-American families, families from the Philippines and from China, a German-American woman, an African-American couple and a young family from India. The ethnic variety that surrounds us is one of the things we most love about living in our community.

We settled on the name Lummis Day because Charles Lummis, Northeast L.A.’s cultural patriarch, was an early proponent of the idea of a multi-cultural city. Also, we wanted to honor his many contributions: founding the Southwest Museum, helping to save the missions, advocating for Native American rights.

How has the festival changed since it began in 2006?

Lummis Day — we now call it Lummis Days — has grown significantly over the past 13 years. Our partnerships with other community groups …. have enabled us to bring more creative elements to our stages and under our tents.

In 2006, a few hundred people came to Sycamore Grove Park in the middle of a brutal heat wave to watch a line-up of entertainment on the park’s bandshell. In 2018, the bandshell will be just one of five stages at Sycamore Grove, and that doesn’t include entertainment events at our other locations.

The core group that came together to organize and produce the event – and the group has remained remarkably consistent over the years — was comprised of neighborhood activists with little experience in mounting a festival. We didn’t think to tent the seating area to protect our audience from the sun. We hadn’t developed sufficient activities to keep our guests engaged for a full day. Over the years, we’ve developed a template for organizing the festival. We know when to begin soliciting talent, when to apply for permits, when to begin our outreach efforts. We now have sufficient know-how – and support from electeds like Gil Cedillo, Jose Huizar and Hilda Solis – to handle a festival with ever-increasing complexity.

Why is this year different from all other years? What are some highlights for the 2018 festival?

There’s a greater variety of things to do at the 2018 festival. The Saturday music presentation at York and Avenue 50 is a bit more focused than in the past. It shifted last year from a daytime to an evening event and this year’s line-up features some of Northeast L.A.’s top indie bands, a line-up that seems consistent with the scene that’s grown up around the York Boulevard transformation.

This year’s festival will be more participatory in other ways. There will be a hands-on blacksmith demonstration by Adam’s Forge, traditional Aztec dance and drum lessons by the Danza Azteca Xipe Totec group, a “singing circle” for kids led by Ms. Serena, and artist Virginia Escamilla’s face-painting station. There are new and different puppet performances. The morning poetry reading that Suzanne Lummis hosts at Lummis Home is now followed by an afternoon poetry workshop led by Lory Bedikian.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that everything is free. We will never charge admission to Lummis Days festival events.

Festival-goers attending this year’s Lummis Days will find more things to do, more great music, dance, poetry and film. We hope they’ll also find a greater sense of community. In a time when so many of our values seem to be under siege, we really need to find things that hold us together.

Eliot and Jain Sekuler | Photo by Greg Cohen

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