Social Connectedness / 2013
Found LA: Festival of Neighborhoods A Day to Meet and Eat with Neighbors Across Los Angeles
Found LA: Festival of Neighborhoods, October 13, 2013, is a day-long celebration of the people and places of Los Angeles providing FREE opportunities for people to explore little known parts of the city with locals as their guides. Organized and implemented through the work of volunteers from many of the areas to be explored, the project provides rich and varied options for people to interact across the divides that make it difficult for Angelenos to develop trust. In addition to discovering attractions in each of the 40 neighborhoods on offer, an essential component of each experience is sharing a locally prepared meal. Food is the great connector, providing a visceral way to get to know previously unknown neighbors based on the sharing of comfort through a well-prepared meal. Eating together is an invitation to socialize and build relationships as barriers to interaction lower with each delicious bite eaten. Seated in a restaurant, a backyard, a community garden or a church banquet hall, people from very different parts of Los Angeles come together and recognize their connection with others and feel more a part of the city. Harvard scholar, Robert Putnam, writes on the value of “social capital,” or the benefits that derive from the cooperation between individuals and groups including a lessening of social isolation. From “Better Together,” “The arts can nurture social capital by strengthening friendships, helping communities to understand and celebrate their heritage, and providing a safe way to discuss and solve difficult social problems. The arts provide a powerful way to transcend the cultural and demographic boundaries that divide us and to find deeper spiritual connections with those like us.” Found LA 2013 will be the third year of the festival. In 2011, 15 tours were held in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, from West Hollywood to San Pedro, from Santa Monica to Highland Park. Tour guides ranged from LA City Councilmember Eric Garcetti (Atwater Village) to food blogger Namju Cho (Koreatown) to youth organizers from Chuco’s Justice Center (Inglewood/South LA). In Leimert Park, artist Karen Collins shared her African American Museum of Miniatures. The surprising Museum is comprised of shadow boxes created with found objects depicting scenes from the history of the African American community—from the royalty of Egypt to Martin Luther King and Mohammed Ali. The following year, 2012, the festival included 14 tours, and participation increased by 23%. Our goal for 2013 is to host 50 tours.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Since programming activities began in 2003, LA Commons has developed grass-roots projects and initiatives in 10 low-income neighborhoods: MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Expo Park, Chinatown, Mid-City, Sylmar, East Hollywood, Palms, Leimert Park and Highland Park. These programs have brought together 70 artists and 400 youth, along with 3825 community members in an innovative process of grass roots artistic and cultural discovery. Now in our tenth year, we have grown from a small to a mid-size arts organization with one full time executive director and four part-time staff. Over the past several years, LA Commons has developed a robust neighborhood tour program, Trekking LA, to leverage the rich content generated in our community arts projects; received contracts with the MTA and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA-LA) and funding from The California Endowment, James Irvine Foundation, and Annenberg Foundation; and created partnerships with UCLA Department of Urban Planning, City Council offices, GOOD Magazine, Sony, and dozens of community-based non-profits. In recognition of the important role played by the organization, Executive Director Karen Mack has been appointed to two city commissions and various boards.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Found LA will involve numerous partners – from the tour guides and locations to media and organizational partners to sponsors. Collaborators this year will include KPCC, LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Past tour guides/locations include CouncilmemberEric Garcetti, Atwater Village; Elson Trinidad, East Hollywood; Timothy Sellers, Highland Park; Danae Tapia & David Chavez, Inglewood/South L.A.; Namju Cho & Jamie Kim, Koreatown; Karen Collins, Leimert Park; Liane Shirmer, Little Tehran; Lara Morrison, Los Angeles Eco Village; Oscar Dominguez, MacArthur Park; Taran Schindler & Liz Schindler Johnson, San Pedro; Roderick Sykes, St. Elmo’s Village; Andrew Campbell, West Hollywood; and Councilmember Jan Perry, Central Avenue.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Evaluation will measure quantitative and qualitative outcomes via tour goer surveys distributed at tours and online post event, feedback session with tour guides and volunteers, and a database that will track numbers of participants. Quantitative:
- Number of participating tour guides, volunteers, and neighborhoods
- Number of partners
- Number of tour goers
- Media coverage received about event
- Social media interaction related to event Qualitative:
- Quality of responses from tour goers, e.g. exposure to new parts and people in the city, interest in returning to tour locations or other LA Commons events
- Quality of responses from tour guides and volunteers, e.g. level of interest from tour goers, authentic connections formed, level of satisfaction in planning and implementation process.
- Types of media coverage, e.g. feature stories highlighting specific people and neighborhoods, interviews with tour guides and tour goers.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Found LA: Festival of Neighborhoods will benefit Los Angeles by offering Angelenos the opportunity to discover and re-discover their city through authentic connections with neighborhoods, their residents, and cultural treasures. At last year’s festival, Jamie Kim led a group on a tour of the Kwanumsa Buddhist Temple in Koreatown. She said, “It was a fantastic opportunity for the temple to open its doors to a non-Korean speaking audience. It’s when people come together that ideas become real and understanding deepens. That’s very magical and I see that as one of the most important aspect of these neighborhood tours. So many people from the temple came up to me to tell me how happy and proud they were of the tour!” Angelenos can participate as volunteers and/or as tour goers. Volunteers will be recruited to lead, organize and support tours. A planning committee made up of individuals from across the city will work together to plan and promote the event beginning in May 2013. Funding from LA 2050 can support an enhanced marketing and public relations campaign to share the event and its benefits with a wide audience. The campaign would allow time for building interest in the festival through promotional materials (videos, print materials, etc.) highlighting the benefits of Angelenos engaging more deeply with their city. A strong focus will be on the food component of the Festival. Images and anecdotes of dishes, restaurants, and chefs (amateur and professional) will be used in the promotional materials. Volunteers from each participating neighborhood will be engaged to create buzz among their social networks – online and offline. All of these levels of participation will support to the goal of social connectedness.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Rates of volunteerism across all social strata have increased based on greater access to relevant opportunities to volunteers. People report feeling more socially connected to each other and their city. More positive feedback on neighborhood offerings, hidden treasures, etc. Greater awareness of ethnic and social diversity of Los Angeles. People report greater interest in interacting and exploring parts of the city outside of their own neighborhoods. Greater sense of ownership and desire to contribute to the city.