Marissa López receives Chancellor’s Arts Initiative grant, curates exhibition on L.A.’s past

Marissa López portrait

Courtesy of Marissa López

Marissa López is spearheading work on a new “living archive” of Latinx Los Angeles music.

Sean Brenner | June 24, 2024

In two distinct projects — one underway and one beginning soon — Marissa López is drawing lessons from Los Angeles’ past to inform insights about the city’s social, economic and cultural present.

With a project set to begin this summer, López, a UCLA professor of English and of Chicana/o and Central American studies, is co-leading an effort to create a new “living archive” of Latinx sounds for Los Angeles. The project, called “Sonidos Nuevos,” was recently named one of 10 to win Chancellor’s Arts Initiative grants for 2024.

López and her collaborator, University of Southern California English professor Jonathan Leal, will work with local artists to explore Los Angeles’ 19th century musical history. After the artists are introduced to sheet music and wax cylinder recordings from that period, they’ll be invited to create new songs in their own unique styles. So while their work will be inspired by the city’s musical history, it is intended to create a soundtrack for the future.

“We’re asking, ‘What does Latinx L.A. sound like in 2024?’,” said López, who also is associate dean of graduate education. “The genre is having a boom right now, but it’s so much more than just artists like Bad Bunny. So what does it really sound like?”

The new songs will be recorded for an album in early 2025. And in mid-2025, the album will be shared on media-sharing platforms and promoted at live events and through a short documentary film. The film will be produced in partnership with a local nonprofit that trains South Los Angeles youth in design and media arts.

“We see this as an opportunity to bring different communities together and create forward-looking joy,” Lopez said.

Chancellor’s Arts Initiative grants are intended to foster the advancement of the arts and arts-related scholarship across the UCLA campus. In all, the program, which is administered by the Chancellor’s Council on the Arts and the Office of Research and Creative Activities, awarded $133,900 to this year’s grantees. Read about the other honorees on the Go Arts UCLA website.

A layered look at the city’s history

Another exploration by López of the city’s past led to the creation of an exhibition that is now on display at the Los Angeles Central Library.

For “Layered Lands: Synchronous Stories of Great Los Angeles,” López curated a selection of documents, historic photographs and printed materials from collections at UCLA and the collections to tell the story of Los Angeles’ transitions over time from Spanish to Mexican control and continuing through its eventual shift to U.S. rule. The exhibition challenges viewers to think about the evolution from the Tongva and other Indigenous Californians populating the Los Angeles basin to the sprawling metropolis that the city has become.

“Layered Lands,” which is supported by the UCLA Division of Humanities, is on display through August 4 in the library’s Annenberg Gallery.

López’s work on the project grew out of a three-year research effort that was funded by the Mellon/ACLAS Scholars and Society Fellowship.