Saluting a champion: Larry Baza

– from the Executive Director –

Too many of us have been brushed by COVID’s fear, loss, or grief. Last week, COVID robbed the Spreckels Organ Society and the world by claiming Larry Baza. At the time of his death, Larry had just become the co-chair of the California Arts Council, the latest of many prestigious titles he held during decades as an arts administrator and cultural advocate. 

San Diego had much to be proud of in Larry. He was a 1962 graduate of San Diego High School, a few blocks from the Organ Pavilion. His parents met and married in this city: his father a US Navy emigre from Guam who came in 1943, his mother descended from Mexican-American roots. He was among the first who engaged in many causes, using creative sparks not only for sure and strong expression, but also to evoke a unifying spirit of community commitment to inclusiveness. 

As chair of the San Diego Arts & Culture Commission, he supported the mission of the Spreckels Organ Society, voicing appreciation for its contribution — and those of other community arts organizations — to the life of our city. “Work hard, care deeply, love others, and enjoy yourself along the way” was Larry’s advice, quoted by fellow arts supporter Robert Gleason.

As we have learned from the onslaught of COVID, surviving what seem to be arbitrary threats to life and livelihood can make anybody angry. Larry’s life experience of injustice offered plenty of cause for anger that might have fueled the life work of a lone artist. Larry felt deeply challenged by forces such as the Vietnam War draft, the put-downs that came to Chicanos and to gays, and the mortal threat of AIDS, a killer too long ignored by those in charge. 

While Larry was a pioneer in confronting each of these challenges — earlier than most of his peers — his gift was to use more than anger in his response. Among his talents was the ability to sense that by working together, communities can overcome obstacles and become more healthy for all. He’ll be remembered for his great humor, incisive curiosity and genuine support of others, in the service of creating a world that offers more health, greater security, and broader appreciation for all.

Godspeed, Larry. We will miss you. 

Ross Porter


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