Cynthia Fuentes comes to The Ford after doing years of community engagement with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where her outside-of-the-box thinking helped to bring the orchestra into spaces it had never been before. Now, as Director of The Ford, she’s bringing the same attitude and vision, in the hopes of both upholding the venue’s legacy of community engagement and widening the scope of inclusivity ever further. Read on to hear more.
What is your job, and what are your actual day-to-day duties?
As Director of The Ford theater, a job I took on in December of 2019 as the County of Los Angeles entrusted the LA Phil with the management of the venue, my responsibilities are really to oversee the day-to-day logistics of the venue.
A lot of times I’m working through some of the behind the scenes plans [such as] “What’s the policy for backstage?” But I’m also overseeing the overall programming direction for The Ford.
One of the important things about The Ford’s future is that it is not only about the people it serves now. This transition comes with the expectation that we will serve more people who represent yet more of Los Angeles, and we will seek the next generation of creatives as avidly as before. There are a lot of great local producers and artists that are really young and coming up, and keeping our team informed of who those folks are and me doing the work and being out there all the time identifying who those folks are. A lot of them don’t live in my world right now! It’s like pushing myself to be out there to say, “Who’s at the forefront of x-type of music?”
It’s about building those relationships with audiences and communities so they know you’re a trusted space for this kind of music.
L.A. County is gigantic: hugely diverse, every cuisine in the world, every kind of music is here. How do you know if you’re doing a good job of representing all of that?
It’s about building those relationships with audiences and communities so they know you’re a trusted space for a wide variety of different music genres. I can point to different spaces around L.A. that I will go to regardless of what they program because I trust the product they’ve put out year after year. I may not know that artist, but I know what kinds of things they curate. [When] I think about what success would look like, I would want to look back in five years and see that we’ve accomplished building that kind of trust.
To that end, what are the values that are shaping your vision for The Ford?
Inclusivity is a big one, and that takes different shapes. The Ford has attracted partners who have been there for a really long time. If you’ve been performing at The Ford for a while, 20 years ago someone flagged you and said, “This person is doing amazing things,” and now you’ve built this great audience within The Ford. So who are those folks now? Are we investing in not only being inclusive across communities, but also are we giving opportunities to young people? For which artists and performers across L.A. does The Ford present the opportunities to grow right now?
I want The Ford to continue to be a community resource in some way, shape, or form, and I want that to be extended beyond just the audiences. There’s a new initiative I’m creating that’s called Community Residencies. Part of that is asking how can we work with community groups that are doing amazing work? How can we help out or provide skill sets to young people in their creative world and make The Ford almost a training ground for them? There are organizations teaching young women about photography. [What if we had] seven of those young women be our photographers for the entire season and helped them build their portfolios? I want to do that across the board, from the kitchen to backstage, thinking about how we can become a training ground and resource and a place where people can look and say “I built that skill there.” In fact, I see this goal as an extension of what The Ford has accomplished over the years. When I talk with artists who have performed here, they hold dear what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown.
What does being the director of The Ford mean to you?
It’s very personal to me. I am a kid from Los Angeles who ended up in this position. I didn’t know that this was a job, and for me it’s really important that we do teach young folks that there are opportunities within the creative community, even though they seem so far from you. I’m a creative; I’m a creative with relationships or negotiations. I didn’t know what that skill set could give me. A lot of it is making sure you’re breaking through some of those barriers
I am a kid from Los Angeles who ended up in this position. I didn’t know that this was a job, and for me it’s really important that we do teach young folks that there are opportunities within the creative community, even though they seem so far from you.
As an Angeleno growing up, what were your impressions of The Ford?
I was a concert-going kid – I’ve been going to concerts since I was 13 years old. I went to The Forum, The Roxy, I went to the Gibson Amphitheater. But I didn’t really go to The Ford, the Bowl, or Walt Disney Concert Hall until I was in my late 20s. That has always shaped the way that I view arts organizations. When people say things like “The Hollywood Bowl is a tradition,” I say, “The Hollywood Bowl is a tradition for some.” There is a large amount of people who do not attend our venues, and I would loop The Ford into that. Even though there is an incredible history of working with community groups, for some reason it was never in my world. That informs the additional work that’s needed for us to provide visibility for our venues and what we put on our stages. When I look at “Who is our audience?,” I’m looking at it through the lens of “Who is not our audience?” How are we going to reach them?
Of course, once I knew about The Ford, I completely fell in love with it. It’s such an incredibly unique, beautiful space. The first show I saw at The Ford was Chris Cornell, who was doing a solo show after leaving Soundgarden, and I remember just being like “What is this place?” And the second thing I saw was a mariachi tribute. It was these two very opposite things that both fit into who I am: I love grunge and I love mariachi music. So I love that about the venue, the versatility of it, because I think that speaks to a lot of the L.A. experience.
Do you have a favorite story from The Ford’s first 100 years?
The Ford had a history of being a punk venue for a long time. There’s a story about punk bands being booked and people destroyed the property, and the venue was like, “No more punk shows here! Whatever this is, it’s not allowed here anymore!” For me, that’s so amazing. It shows the energy and love people have for punk music, and at that moment, maybe they got a little too excited, but let’s not punish the genre or audience! Let’s make a couple of adjustments and see how we can make it work.
OK, last question. What is your dream lineup for The Ford?
That’s really hard! I’m a huge fan of Latinx indie music, and I think a lot of people, when they think of Latinx artists, they think of Mexican music, but there’s also so much amazing music coming out of Colombia and Ecuador and Chile, for instance. Having a week that would be a mini-Latin American festival that highlights electronic music, rock music, singer-songwriter, rap. Ana Tijoux or La Mala: There's such a big push for women in rap music in Latin America, and just seeing the diversity of that. [Or maybe] it’s almost a focus of these different types of scenes around the world. Like French trap music – seeing the evolution of that and how that happened, right? To see what’s happening in France, it’s incredible, because there’s a whole scene there we may never hear about or see. Or Brazilian music, or music coming out of the Middle East, it’s so dope, and that’s the sad thing: There’s so much music in the world that we will never, ever hear it all. It makes me feel bad every time I hit replay on Spotify – I’m like, “I shouldn’t be listening to a song twice! There’s so much music to listen to in the world.”