Gregorio Luke: Art Lecturer as 'Artist of the Year'

Categories: art

When the Distinguished Arts Awards will be held later tonight in Long Beach, local art lecturer Gregorio Luke will be honored and awarded as "Artist of the Year." The former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in the city was nominated by the public and selected for the distinction by an independent panel. The Arts Council for Long Beach, which is hosting and presenting the award ceremony, describes Luke as someone whose "lectures...continue to inspire and educate audiences about the impact of the arts in our everyday lives."

Numerous media outlets from KCRW to the Los Angeles Times have agreed with the sentiment. Through an ambitious multimedia approach, Gregorio Luke has been able to redefine what a lecture can be. His topics are wide, varied, and always densely informative. In more than one-thousand lectures across the country and around the world, Luke has spoken on everyone and everything from Frida Kahlo, Mexican muralists, Jesus in art, the historical life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and the golden era of Mexican cinema.

As for an art lecturer being honored as an artist? "I think it's the first time lectures are seen as part of the art genre," Luke tells me. "Most of the time, the people who do lectures are doing them to promote a book or because of their celebrity. The purpose for me are the lectures themselves."

Growing up in Mexico, Luke was surrounded by artists, including his own ballet dancing mother, but feared taking on the financial risks associated with devoting one's purpose in life to a creative craft. "I was scared about being an artist," he lets on. "I avoided it for a long time, but then I started doing these lectures when I was a diplomat. Eventually, it became an all consuming passion. It became like a jealous lover. I had to tell the story right and make it a fantastic lecture."

Soon that motivation lent itself to intensive preparation. "In my case, I can study something to the extent that I sometimes lose myself in that process," Luke says. "My lectures have a narrative pulse to them and are built as if they were a screenplay." As his talks are conceived in that fashion, Luke appropriately brings with him larger than life projection screens to showcase life size murals as was the case when he filled the seats of Hollywood's John Anson Ford Amphitheater two summer ago for a lecture on Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

News that his vision has culminated in an "Artist of the Year" award has come to be the latest vindication for Luke's move to leave behind an established institution in pursuit of entertaining and informing audiences through his talks. "When I left MoLAA almost five years ago to do lectures full time people thought I was crazy," he recalls.

"Well," Luke says triumphantly, "here I am."

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