Theatre Does Not Apologize

Originally posted in Cultural Weekly on November 23, 2016.

Dear Mr. President-elect,

I’d like to explain something about the theatre, because you seem to misunderstand what theatre is all about.

You recently asked the cast of Hamilton to apologize to the Vice President-elect, Mike Pence. You tweeted:

The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!

You tweeted that because, at the end of Friday night’s performance, with Mike Pence in attendance, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon read this message from the stage:

You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out.

Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.

Here’s the thing about theatre. It is not a safe place. Theatre is dangerous. It challenges the status quo. All good theatre confronts its audience. That has been true since Aeschylus and Shakespeare, Molière and Beckett, and for Hansberry and Albee, Wilson and Pinter, Parks and LeCompte.

Theatre, good theatre, makes its audience uncomfortable. And theatre does not apologize for that. Theatre never apologizes.

As Mayakovsky said, and Brecht said after him, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”

This, Mr. President-elect, is the hammer of theatre. We, all artists, all culture-creators, will not apologize for what we do.

Cultural Weekly


Image from the official Instagram feed of Hamilton: Actor Brandon Victor Dixon reads a message to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

4 Ways to Be Creative, No Matter What Your Mood

Does creativity seem to be a fleeting mood? Is finding ways to be creative proving elusive?Sometimes I wish I could bottle it for the next stretch when I require its powers but they elude me. Well into writing my third book, I’ve experienced days when the words were fluid and easy to catch as if by the bucket, and others when distraction left me high and dry. To combat these lurches, I’ve devised four tactics that have helped me reach a creative mindset. Follow these tips, and you’ll find you can call upon your creativity when you need it.

Beckoning Your Creativity

  • Like children in a fairy tale who stray too far from home, sometimes we just need a trail of breadcrumbs to help us find our way back. Breadcrumbs are reminders that bring us back to the mindset we were in when we halted our work. Try to stop when you’re really into something (a vivid scene in a written work, for example), so you’ll be able to pick up when you return. Write yourself concise notes, focusing on details about where you left off, what problem you’re working to solve, or the next steps. This way, you can dive right back in when you’re fresh, rather than repeating work or trying to remember what to do next. You’ll save time and enjoy better focus when you return.
  • If you haven’t tried this method, I highly recommend it. Start with a timer set for 25 minutes, and work continuously during that period, without interruption or distraction. When the time is up, take a five minute break. Repeat this cycle several times, then take a longer break (15 minutes). This proven method puts our natural rhythms to work for us. What’s the relationship to creativity? With a limited time to work on a task, your mind relaxes about expectations. You’re not taking on creating an entire work; you’re working for 25 minutes. It’s amazing how quickly work can absorb our attention, and how much we can accomplish in these time boxes.
  • It may sound odd, but letting your subconscious mind work on a problem before your give it your full attention can lead to more creative results. It turns out that when given a challenge, our brains begin working on possible solutions, even before we begin our efforts in earnest. So, if you want to optimize creative ideas, let your ideas ferment.
  • Mise en place. If you want to do your best work, put your tools in place first (mise en placeis a French term commonly used in culinary arts to mean “putting in place”). Set a routine for your creative practice, and repeat the routine as fully as possible. Even better, work in a familiar place or with familiar objects nearby. With practice, you’ll begin to associate the routine and setting with the creative state of mind, and the routine itself will provide cues to jumpstart your creativity.

Innovation Grows When Creatives Are Constrained

Over Indulgence May Not Be the Path to the Best Work

In an attempt to attract talent and drive innovation, today’s leaders often give seemingly endless perks to creatives. But as Eric Weiner argues in his Los Angeles Times OpEd “All those office perks? They’re ruining creativity” the investment might not be getting the desired results. So what is the best way to encourage creative, innovative work?

Weiner describes the benefits landscape: “We are living in the Decade of Perks. Companies are falling over one another offering workers such goodies as squash courts, hoverboards, lap pools, nap zones, pet care and more. What began as a Silicon Valley fad has spread to corporate America writ large. […] Urban planners, meanwhile, are doing much the same, only on a larger scale, desperately trying to lure the so-called ‘creative class’ with hip restaurants, theater districts and other cultural bonbons.”

Is the net impact of all these comforts in today’s creative offices worth it? In Weiner’s view, the outcomes aren’t necessarily commensurate with the investment. Overall, he estimates, today’s creatives fall short in comparison to creative masters in the past, many of whom had significant struggles and discomforts.

“Although well-intentioned CEOs assume the best way to foster creativity is to remove all obstacles, considerable evidence suggests the opposite is true. In one classic study, Ronald Finke, a professor of psychology at Texas A & M University, asked participants to create an art project. Some people were given a wide range of materials, others little. Finke and his colleagues found that the most creative work was done by those with the fewest choices — that is, with the most constraints.”

An excellent example of a group that inspired themselves and others to great lengths by invoking constraints: the Dogme 95 filmmakers. The group wrote a manifesto with rules that simplified filmmaking and were, cofounders Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg said, a response to high-cost budgets in filmmaking. In this case, dozens of films, many critically acclaimed, have been made using Dogme 95 principles. As in Weiner’s examples, it seems our creativity can diminish in the midst of excess. Perhaps more creatives might consider similar ways to pare down options in creative endeavors. While it may be arbitrary, the results can be transformational–as our creativity and problem-solving skills kick into high gear. By setting basic guidelines to constrain our tendency to overindulge, we can encourage creators to bring their best work.

Not now, ok? Procrastination Increases Creativity

Do you procrastinate, or are you more likely to complete an assignment early? While it’s clear that procrastination cuts into productivity, in Adam Grant’s Op-Ed “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate” for The New York Times, Grant wonders whether pre-crastinators are more or less creative than procrastinators.

One of Grant’s students devised an experiment to determine whether procrastinators do, in fact, perform with a higher degree of creativity.

Grant describes the experiment: “I wasn’t convinced. So Jihae [Shin], now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators’ ideas were 28 percent more creative.”

I’m not sure how to quantitatively assess 28% more creativity, but we’ll go with the findings for argument’s sake. I’m impressed: not consciously thinking about a task has a positive impact on our creativity.

What were Grant’s takeaways? “Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn’t the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.”

For my own part, on straightforward tasks, I take a straight-forward approach. But when creative results are in demand, I take a more circuitous route, often letting time pass without action. In fact, I have learned to go easy on myself, and if words aren’t flowing, accept that and have a good time doing something else. The words will come later, in a flood, and that is just the way it will be.

Many other successful artists who are known procrastinators. Many even consider procrastination to be part of an artist’s temperament. As Grant quotes Aaron Sorkin, “You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.” What Grant shows is that we can achieve divergent and lateral thinking–the bedrock of creativity–by letting ourselves temporarily off the hook.

Photo above courtesy of Judit Klein.

Middle C: On Hitting the Right “Creative” Note

Developing Creativity In the Today’s Digital Age

Creativity can be developed in more ways than one. A life as an artist was once essentially an academic career path, in which one would train extensively with masters and then find one’s own patrons, whether individuals or institutions, and possibly later train others. Now that lifestyle can only be achieved by an incredibly small number of artists. Today artists may have academic training, or might train themselves using available tools and materials, then set about finding and marketing themselves to their own audience–which is no small task. Is there contention among these approaches, and what can be said of elevating a non-academic arts education?

According to Jeffrey Davis, author of “Creativity Is Not About Amateurs or Academies” for Psychology Today, there are two camps in creativity. On one end are those who evangelize self-expression and see the digital world as a beneficial conduit for that expression. Davis calls this the “small c” creativity camp. On the other end are those who advocate the canon over personal expression, whom Davis refers to as “big C” creativity camp. While both may have a sense of the universal and historical, the latter focuses more on making a contribution to the traditional medium.

Davis sums up the challenge for the amateur. “The Artist, in the conventional sense, ultimately seeks inclusion within a very exclusive set of conventions, organizations, and institutions, which approve, rate, and fund the Artist. Or not. You’re either chosen and brought in and funded, or not. You either get ‘sold’ to your medium’s respective institution, or you remain a bohemian juggler.” Simply put, it’s more difficult for the amateur to win the opportunity to make a living producing creative work.

In response to this cold fact, Davis puts forth what he describes as a “bridge” option, one in which the amateur can develop a creative professional orientation. I would refer to this as a plan for hitting middle C, or a professional but non-academic approach to a creative career. Davis’s tips:

  1. Take advantage of digital media, but do not rely solely upon them.
  2. Seek out “apprenticeship” opportunities to adopt a deeper understanding of your chosen medium.
  3. Infuse sound business strategy into your art form to create a flexible and profitable creative practice.

This article resonates with me and my work with creative professionals of all backgrounds. I would even argue that whether one is a self-taught filmmaker or film school grad, a first film festival experience can be similar. More than ever before, the economy demands more self-assessment, differentiation and promotion of filmmakers and other creatives. On the bright side, while there’s less public funding available for independent artists, there’s unprecedented access to the means by which we can reach our audience and tell our own story. By taking time to learn and ultimately elevate ourselves from amateur to practicing artist, we truly win the right to broadcast our story and accomplishments, and ask our audience for support.

Photo: Courtesy of Elliott Billings via Creative Commons.


The Laws of Creativity: You Don’t Need to Be a Genius

In his article “You can learn to be creative, if you’re willing to embarrass yourself” for Quartz, James Clear begins with this premise: Our understanding of groundbreaking ideas is often propelled by storytelling in which a centrally organizing epiphany drives a brilliant creative accomplishment. Don’t be fooled. You don’t have to be a genius to create a top-notch discovery, invention or creation.

Taking the example of Newton and the discovery of the Laws of Gravity, Clear points out that Newton worked with the concepts for the Laws of Gravity for around 20 years before publishing. That’s more than the “eureka” moment we usually imagine when we think of Newton, and it proves it has always taken a lot more than a great idea to ship.

In fact, as Clear found in his research, “As long as you meet a threshold of intelligence, then brilliant creative work is well within your reach. In the words of researchers from a 2013 study, ‘we obtained evidence that once the intelligence threshold is met, personality factors become more predictive for creativity.'”

What does that mean for those of us who feel we don’t have everything we need to create? According to Clear, our personality traits are the drivers for our success in doing creative work and thus for the laws of creativity. Namely, we can adopt those traits that are compatible to reaching our creative goals.

As Clear defines them: 

  1. Adopt a “growth mindset”–if we imagine we are plastic, and therefore capable of change and growth, we in fact are. 
  2. Let go of the fear of embarrassment—without this fear, we overcome an internal obstacle to doing deep creative work. 

In my experience—including decades spent working with the brightest in filmmaking—I can attest that it’s true. The people who have achieved the most aren’t necessarily the most obvious successes. What they share is a willingness to labor in their craft, ship their best work, and respond to their audience in order to improve their next creative cycle.

I challenge you to set a goal. What will you ship?

Click here to see my related post about what actress Mindy Kaling says about hard work. 


Mad Max: Go Outside the Box for Greatness

Mad Max Fury Road is a great movie, and not just because it holds you riveted and breathless for two hours. It’s great because director George Miller took outside-the-box chances, such as making Furiosa, the character played by Charlize Theron, the main character instead of Mad Max. He also called on Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues and founder of VDay, to consult on what would become one of the most feminist movies we’ve seen in years.

Eve and I are friends from when I was at National Geographic Films, and we discussed doing a film together. She and I recently talked about Mad Max Fury Road and Eve’s work in the world.

Adam Leipzig: Eve, I always knew you were badass, but when I found out you consulted on this movie you became super-badass in my book.

Eve Ensler: It was so thrilling to be asked. I had given the keynote speech at a human rights conference in Sydney and George Miller heard my speech. They were in pre-production. He does this wonderful thing where he sends a recording of his voice in email form. He told me about the film, and said it would be wonderful if I could work with the “wives” and talk to them about my experiences with sex trafficking, being in multiple war zones, what happens with sex slavery and rape trauma, what it would mean if you were carrying the baby of a rapist. He asked me to talk about what that kind of sexual terrorism does to your body and how it forces you to leave the landscape and disassociate from yourself, and the Stockholm Syndrome, how over a period of time you become attached to your perpetrator, and what it would mean to struggle with leaving your perpetrator.

AL: I have loved Max Max from the beginning, from 1979 when I saw the film on opening day, and the critics savaged it.

EE: Me too. I do not like action films, but Mad Max really established something else, because it was so indie, political and allegorical.

AL: The Road Warrior, which was released in 1981, is a movie every film student should see about 10 times because it is perfectly made, every shot, every cut.

EE: That was his best movie until this one. People are calling Mad Max Fury Road a masterpiece. It’s a rock-body-opera.

AL: You worked with the cast where they were shooting in Namibia, and right after that you went to City of Joy, the community of women survivors of violence you’ve established in Buvaku, Congo. That’s one of the the things I most admire about you — that you took your success from The Vagina Monologues and used it to create an empowering place for women who have had some of the most traumatic experiences in modern history. What was that like, to go from the Mad Max movie set to the real world of City of Joy?

EE: It was shocking. The landscapes were all too familiar. Bukavu is such a sacred place, and also so anarchic in terms of poverty, lack of electricity and water, and a town of 50,000 that now holds a million, and constant, constant influxes of terrible violence. On arriving I felt like, the future is here.

eve ensler city of joy

V-Day Founder Eve Ensler at Panzi at the opening ceremonies of the City of Joy, Democratic Republic of Congo, 02/05/11. (photo: Paula Allen/

AL: Did you do workshops with the Mad Max cast?

EE: We worked for hours each day. I told them lots of stories, they asked questions, I had them read things, we went into deep issues around rape and trauma. It wasn’t similar to other workshops I’ve done, because it was very specifically focused.

AL: Did you feel the resonance of that work when you saw the film?

EE: George wanted to create women who are not victims, and he certainly accomplished that. The backstories are indelibly imprinted on those actors. You believe they are traumatized. In some ways, they are living the best lives in that world because they are being kept as breeders, so they are untainted in a world where everybody is in dire circumstances. On another level, the comforts they are receiving in terms of having water and being protected are at the price of being sex slaves. There are many allegories to where we are today: so many women today are sex trafficked so they can make a living to support their families, so many women are being forced to give up their freedom to survive.

AL: It is quite related to your work, which is also about women not being victims.

EE: Absolutely. When you first see the women in the film, they are chanting, “We are not things! We are not things!” As soon as I read that in the script, I said, I’m in. That is the call of our times. How are we going to organize as women and men to rise up against the neo-liberal, capitalist, racist patriarchy, which is destroying us, and what are we willing to give up for that liberation?

AL: What do you think needs to be given up?

EE: If we really are going to bring in the new world, everyone has to be committed on some level to giving up their comforts, so we can have a world where everybody has water, everybody is fed, everybody is living in comfort and has food on the table, everybody has medical support. That’s what the movie is looking at. We live in a world where 85 people are making the same money as 3.5 billion, there is a tiny percentage that have everything and the people below have next to nothing, as in Mad Max, where people barely get any water and are told not to get used to it because they’ll get addicted to it. It’s the same system we are in now.

AL: The landscape of scarce resources and the few vs. the many goes back to those first Mad Max movies. It was a clear political agenda, and very much an art house film agenda. One of the reasons I so admire The Road Warrior is that it was the first film that combined the art house with commercial filmmaking. For that reason it is a landmark piece of cinema.

In the same way, there is a relationship to your work. When you first started doing The Vagina Monologues, it could not have been more art house. In fact, it wasn’t even in a theatre. It was at the fringe of the fringe, but it became extraordinarily commercial — not because you were seeking success and fame, but it happened.

EE: Because it resonated with so many people. I just now got this article sent to me, a new Gallup poll:

While International Women’s Day this Sunday will focus mostly on how the world thinks women are doing, it’s important to understand how the women of the world think they are doing. The best way to find this out is to ask them.

This International Women’s Day, more than one in four women worldwide — or about 620 million women — rate their lives positively enough to be considered “thriving.” The life ratings of the rest — or about 2 billion women — place them in a category of “struggling” or “suffering.”

AL: Things come full circle. A few months ago there was a performance by the WordTheatre at Guerrilla Atelier, a considered lifestyle space here in Downtown LA’s Arts District. A group of men read your poem The Man Prayer. It begins:

May I be a Man
Whose confidence comes from the depth of my giving
Who understands that vulnerability is my greatest strength
Who creates space rather than dominates it

I sent you a photo of it, I think you were in Paris at the time, and you emailed me back about how moving it was to see that.

EE: Yes. And now I have been reading the press around Mad Max. There are some so-called “men’s rights” groups, which I think are fairly reactionary, who are boycotting the movie. They are saying women are not equal to men, women have no logic. They’re angry that I was a consultant on the film. They feel feminism is destroying Mad Max.

AL: Oh, give me a break.

EE: It is astonishing. Here is what’s amazing about the film. Charlize Theron’s character has a real mission. Any violence that occurs does not feel gratuitous because she is directed toward her mission. When you see a female action character, who is capable of fighting on equal ground with the men, who is the most powerful fighter in this film, when you see that, as a woman, allegorically, metaphorically, in all ways, it changes your idea of yourself. You actually believe you have agency over your life, you can fight with men as an equal partner — in some cases she is saving Mad Max, in other cases he is saving her. You never feel women are crippled, or disabled, or incapable of defending themselves. That alone is so empowering.

Charlize’s character is taking the wives to the green place called the Land of the Many Mothers. Another thing that is astonishing is when they get there, there’s a reveal. I don’t want to spoil it for people, but the reveal of who they are is something I have never seen before in a film.

AL: Its antecedent is in Monique Wittig’s 1969 novel Les Guérillères.

EE: It has never been in a movie. These women are fierce and capable. I do not believe in violence. Yet as a metaphor for women fighting and standing up for what they believe in, and joining forces with other women and men to rally forward, it is incredibly powerful.

AL: As every movie franchise is rebooted, it goes back to its origin story. Mad Max Fury Road feels as though it grapples with the origin story of men’s violence against women.

EE: Going back to our origins, where the collective unconscious sets up what propels us in a particular motion, and what story is at the basis of our consciousness — that’s what determines our reality right now. This film is so powerful because it rearranges the whole cellular makeup of that story. Even to utter the words “feminist action film” is to transmit a new idea into the collective unconsciousness.

Feminism has never been excluding of men or at the expense of men. When women are liberated and equal, men will be liberated as well.

Top image: Charlize Theron, at right, leads the wives on a quest for freedom in Mad Max Fury Road. Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

Creativity and Capital in the 21st Century

A funny thing happened on the way to traditional media’s complete dumbing-down of the American mind: Thomas Piketty’s gigantic, massively researched treatise Capital in the Twenty-First Century has climbed to the top ranks of Amazon’s best-seller list.

While few people will actually read every page of the French economist’s 700-page tome, the central premise of Piketty’s research has already become part of our national discourse, and it is easy to summarize.

Based on big data compiled over many years, Piketty demonstrates how the return on capital exceeds the general economy’s rate of growth. Therefore, inherited and accumulated wealth continue to increase, and become a larger and larger share of the entire economic pie. This explains the massive, and growing, rich-poor divide.

Piketty’s findings enrage the Right, who argue that “inequality of capital is simply a proxy for other kinds of inequality,” such as superior intelligence and motivation among the rich. They’re wrong, and a couple of examples from creative industries further prove Piketty’s points.

Consider the plight of the visual artist. If she sells her work through a gallery, the gallery takes fifty percent. That’s fair; the gallery’s curation and “seal of approval” add value to the work. But later, when the art collector sells the work, perhaps at a considerable profit, the original artist doesn’t get anything. Capital (the collector’s wealth) increases at a rate far greater than the general economy (that of the artist). (A bill was recently introduced in the US Congress to grant artists a meager 5% resale royalty; it won’t get out of committee.)

As further evidence, we can look at the gulf in value between filmed intellectual properties and the distribution systems that bring them to market. Subscription video services, like Hulu and Netflix, are able to pay pennies on the production-dollar for the right to distribute independent movies. This may be the only income those films can make, and therefore, it is true, many of those films don’t have much market value. But even as the general economic health of the artists that make these movies stays flat, or is in decline, the corporate value of the video distribution companies continues to grow.

A few years ago, I suggested that economists should recognize the Creativity Theory of Value. I wrote:

When you buy a pair of Nikes that have cost $5 to produce in a factory in Vietnam, why do you pay $100? For their creativity, design, and innovation, and the marketing involved in selling you all of these attributes.

The Creativity Theory of Value holds that the value of anything is the product of the Creativity involved in creating it multiplied by the Labor required to produce it. In mathematical terms, we could express it as:

C * L = V

where C is Creativity, L is Labor and V is Value. This will allow us to find the Creativity Index for anything.

When the Creativity Index is the number 1 or more, Creativity has had a significant positive effect on something’s value. But if the Creativity Index is less than 1, then we could say that the Creativity was a negative influence on the Labor; in other words, it wasn’t worth it.

In the two examples I cited above, the visual artist who sells to a collector, and the independent filmmaker who sells to a video service, even if the Creativity Index of the work proves to be significant, the creator won’t see any benefit. Piketty’s conclusion resounds: the value of collectors’ or distributors’ capital increases faster than the value of artists’ labor.

What’s the solution? Piketty proposes a global tax on wealth, and he couples its urgency with core democratic principles. “If democracy is to regain control over the globalized financial capitalism of this century, it must also invent new tools, adapted to today’s challenges,” Piketty writes. “The ideal tool would be a progressive global tax on capital, coupled with a very high level of financial transparency.” (p. 515)

This is very much in line with what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has been saying for years: taxation is the foundation of democracy:

There’s one more thing I truly love about Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Piketty is a lover of literature, and draws some of his inspiration from it. In one of my favorite passages, he quotes from Balzac’s 1835 novel Le Père Goriot to show us how the accumulation of capital and inherited wealth is a longstanding tradition. Vautrin, a master criminal, tries to give a life lesson to law student Eugène de Rastignac, and explains, point by point, how simply working and doing a good job will never provide wealth and security. “There is only one way,” says Vautrin. “Marry a woman who has money.”

Why Does Some Creative Culture Spread?

Why does some creative culture spread, while other creative culture arrives dead?

Why, for example, are people prowling the streets of Bristol, England, right now hoping to discover Banksy’s next work, while few notice when new street art appears in nearby Chippenham? Why is the worldwide movie-going audience buying advance tickets for Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man 2, and running away from Johnny Depp in Transcendence?

What makes culture move beyond the small embrace of its creator to become part of the bigger social fabric? Recently, I’ve been exploring these questions, seeking Laws of Culture that obtain independent of money. Because with a gigantic marketing budget, you can always buy awareness. But no matter how much advertising you buy, you cannot purchase desire.

When we look into the Laws of Culture, we’re really investigating desire: what causes us to experience it and want to share it.


Morning air brushes your face. As your legs cycle in rhythm, you wonder why no one else is on the street. Do you have the wrong day? The wrong time? Then, rounding a corner, you see another bicyclist and another. Soon there are five of you, now twenty, and you fold into the energy of the cycling pack, the group awareness, the power of your wheels on the pavement that starts to make cars move aside.

You anticipate, sensing excitement two blocks away, but nothing can prepare you for the emotional flush as you make the next turn to discover 10,000 more cyclists, of all ages and descriptions, at the starting point of today’s CicLAvia.

This is the experience many LA residents feel on occasional Sunday mornings in the city.

CicLAvia is a day when cars are banned from city streets, and bicycles and pedestrians take over. It’s an opportunity of urban idealism. Begun in Bogotá, Columbia, in 1976, where it is called Ciclovía and the central city closes to automobile traffic every Sunday, it has inspired similar events in more than ten countries and dozens of US cities.

No American city has adopted it more than LA. You would never have expected CicLAvia to grasp a firm hold here, but it has the city in its thrall. LA’s CicLAvia is so successful that one recent day saw 150,000 people bicycling from LA’s downtown to Venice Beach, and CicLAvia’s organizers have just launched a crowdfunding campaign to make it a monthly event. (Support them! I have!)

What would make Angelenos ditch their cars for a day? Let’s call it one of the Laws of Culture: The Law of Discovery. When we discover a way to do something we secretly hope to do, we’ll do it. LA’s car-love is mythologized in the sense that it is overstated. Most Angelenos feel ambivalent about their cars. We view then as utilitarian requirements in a spread-out city without sufficient public transportation.

When a work of creative culture, like CicLAvia, gives people the feeling that they are discovering something new—instead of making them feel force-fed—it creates desire. It is more likely to be shared and to gain momentum. CicLAvia creates the feeling of discovery because its organizers constantly change its route, and because participants approach it alone on bicycles, then suddenly, in turning one corner, discover they are part of a vast collective enterprise.

This is one way that creative culture moves and spreads—through the emotions of anticipation and discovery. It’s the Law of Discovery, and CicLAvia illustrates it on city streets for all to see.