Oral Histories

Interview of Jan Williamson

Artist and environmental activist, executive director of 18th Street Arts Complex, and founding member of performance groups Earth Water Air Los Angeles (EWALA) and FrogWorks. Involved in protests against Playa Vista land development at the Ballona Wetlands.
Environmental Activism in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Environmental Movement
Biographical Note:
Artist and environmental activist, executive director of 18th Street Arts Complex, and founding member of performance groups Earth Water Air Los Angeles (EWALA) and FrogWorks. Involved in protests against Playa Vista land development at the Ballona Wetlands.
Collings, Jane
Williamson, Jan
Persons Present:
Williamson and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Williamson's office at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research. B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing material on the Earth, Water, Air, Los Angeles theater troupe and on the Ballona wetlands.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Williamson was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
3 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Series Statement:
The series documents environmental activism in the Los Angeles area from the 1970s through to the present day. The majority of interviews are with either founders or knowledgeable participants in major regional environmental organizations. Represented groups embody a wide range of issues, including conservation, restoration, environmental justice and toxic waste disposal.Additional partially processed interviews are available through Library Special Collections.
Early life growing up on horse ranches—Works for Tom Van Sant—An effort to put together a Star Trek themed park at the site of the ranch where Williamson grew up—The importance of growing up on a ranch for the formation of Williamson's connection to nature—Enjoys art while at school—Williamson’s religious background—Expectations for college—An inspirational theater teacher while at high school—Attends an Art Center in Pasadena high school program—Works on a mural for the Hollywood area while in high school—Begins to consider a career in the arts—Early arts management work—Public funding for the arts in California—A generation of public school teachers with no background in arts education—An L.A. County-wide effort to refund the arts in public schools—Working in the fisheries in Alaska to earn money to travel—Impact of fishing industry income on indigenous communities in Alaska.
A backpacking summer in Europe—A week in Paris—Travels through the French Alps—A car trip through Italy—Prepares to move to Mexico—Travels in Alaska—Moves to Mexico—Attends the festival of Guadalupe—The economy and culture of Zacatecas—Williamson’s living quarters in Zacatecas—An interest in indigenous local ceremonies—Witnesses pageant-style re-enactment of historical events—An interest in the possibilities for shifting means that is found in ceremonies—A difficult experience doing paintings—A sense of alienation from the local community—Friendships with artists while in Mexico—A disinclination to pursue a career as a studio artist—Williamson’s emerging interest in science—Meets Tom Van Sant and starts to work for him—Assists Van Sant in manufacturing a three-dimensional globe based on satellite images of the earth—The process of constructing the globe—Geosphere project—The process of creating the satellite image of the earth—The making of Ryan’s Eye—The emergence within the culture of the notion of the earth as a planet—Van Sant’s Earth Situation room pieces—The importance of Van Sant’s contribution of coloring satellite images in realist colors—Van Sant’s project to gather data such as animal migrations , shipping lanes and ocean currents with satellite image to overlay on the 3-D globe—Exhibitions and CD-ROMs of the globe project—The large amount of technical support required for the globe project—An emerging interest in performance art and public art practice—Barbara T. Smith’s performance piece that interfaces with the Biosphere 2 project—Transforming sacred space as a central theme.
Attends the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama—Becomes involved in the struggle against the Playa Vista development at the Ballona wetlands—The formation of Earth Water Air Los Angeles (EWALA) through a collaboration between Williamson, Susan Suntree and Mary Nichols—Types of participation in the EWALA walks—Efforts to involve a broad consortium of governmental groups in the final EWALA event—Williamson approaches community groups along the march route for the second EWALA event—Conducts artmaking workshops leading up to each of the five EWALA march events—Involvement of local Native American community groups in the EWALA events—More on becoming involved in the Ballona wetlands struggle—Williamson’s work at the 18th Street Arts Complex—The social engagement thread in the work at the 18th Street Arts Complex—The crystallization of an arts movement rooted in a commitment to social justice—Williamson learns Brazilian samba drumming—The World Festival of Sacred Music—Organizes an event at the Ballona wetlands for the World Festival of Sacred Music—Williamson’s introduction to Tibetan Buddhism—The performances of a hybrid ritual at the closing ceremony for the 3rd and 4th festivals.