Educator and Watts Towers Arts Director Rosie Lee Hooks was found not guilty of insubordination after a July 31 hearing, but guilty of not adhering to the public art approval process to paint a mural of Watts native and jazz legend Charles Mingus. Her supporters are questioning that decision, they said, citing “substantial documentation proving that Ms. Hooks was unaware of this process, contradicting Community Arts Director Leslie Thomas’ testimony.” A final hearing was held September 13 on Hooks’ appeal of a three week suspension by the Department of Cultural Affairs, that resulted from the charges.
“Mr. Thomas admitted that he had approved Ms. Hooks’ vacation for the month of May, 2016, but insisted that she was definitely in attendance at the May 5, 2016, meeting where she was informed of the Public Arts Ordinance approval process,” said Friends of the Watts Towers members, via a statement released to the press, earlier this month.
However, they pointed out, Hooks’ attorney, Adam Stern submitted a passport showing that the very time she was claimed to have been attending a meeting, she was actually en route to South Africa. Hooks has had a strong backing since the suspension in April. Many of her supporters believe the suspension was less disciplinary than vindictive, they said, since Hooks has been a long time advocate of the Watts community.
Watts has long held a reputation as a low income, high crime area. Hooks supporters, some who are considered community leaders said that fact plays a huge role in their share of city resources.
“For years, the community groups have asked the city for appropriate resources to support our vision, getting very little in response from the Cultural Affairs Department, the Mayor’s Office or the 15th Council District, and they have never shared with us their own long-range plans for the campus or the Watts community,” said Friends.
But advocates like Hooks, who has also served as Director of Festivals for the City’s Cultural Affairs Department and produced the first Central Avenue Jazz Festival, are working hard to overcome that reputation. Emphasizing the neighborhood’s most famous landmark, the Watts Towers has been part of that strategy. The sculpture has attracted many artists and professionals to the area.
“I Build the Tower”, a feature-length documentary film about the Watts Towers and their creator, Simon Rodia, provides a history of Watts from the 1920s to the present and a record of the activities of the Watts Towers Arts Center.
“Hooks brings a vast array of experience and talent to the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus,” according to her bio on wattstowers.org.
Hooks began her career as an actor and singer about 35 years ago in Washington D.C.
A founding member of The Black Ensemble Theatre Center (TBET) at LATC (Los Angeles Theatre Center), Hooks has toured the U.S. and Europe with the Mark Taper Forum. She continues to act in film, television and on stage and is a three-time nominee and is the recipient of two NAACP “Image Awards.” she is also former member of the renowned singing ensemble, “Sweet Honey In The Rock.”
“We offer any assistance the Watts community needs to end the blatant harassment of an adored arts educator,” said Labor Representative Geoffrey Garfield of Hooks’ union, Engineers & Architects Association.