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Income & Employment / 2013

LA Stories — Writing on the Job

LA Stories — Writing on the Job

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by 58-12 Design Lab

Los Angeles suffers from some of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation, and is also home to the nation’s largest population of storytellers. Coincidence? We hope not! 58-12 Design Lab proposes to unpack these facts in the context of LA through the production of a book titled “Writing on the Job,” launching the “LA Stories” series of books with topical, engaging stories on Los Angeles. This initial volume will revolved around the theme of jobs. What is the landscape of employment in Los Angeles? How is the everyperson faring in today’s world? What might a future world look like for jobs in LA? What are the unknown, overlooked, and strange stories that haven’t been told? By engaging with poets, fiction and non-fiction authors, screenwriters and playwrights, journalists, and writers of all stripes, we hope to achieve several goals.

First, we will provide an alternative medium to the talking heads that the mainstream media provides through storytelling in new scopes, from an intimate story of a family going through economic hardship, to the big picture vision that a sci-fi novella can provide but that non-fiction accounts often overlook. We believe that this approach offers new insight into the well-worn ground of economic hardship that we have all experienced over the past several years. The book will be directly distributed free of charge to local libraries, schools, and similar public institutions so it can be disseminated throughout the city, and can provide a cause for community-building book launch events throughout LA.

Second, we believe that storytelling is, in fact, a radical means to create real change. So often, our reality is dictated by the stories we hear and tell, and to change those stories with intention offers an escape from this self-fulfilling cycle. Storytelling offers a way for people from different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds to relate to one another, to understand one another, and to create positive social change. So we believe that beyond mere media, our collection of stories will spark real change for employment and income in Los Angeles.

Third, we believe that by partnering with storytellers, one of the largest and most underemployed groups in Los Angeles, we will be able to offer real and direct support through a grant given to each writer contained in the volume, as well as through editorial support and name recognition. We hope that LA Stories will continue from the success of this initial volume, becoming an LA institution that supports, fosters, and promotes writers in this city. LA has amazing human capital in this area but it will take a project like LA Stories: Writing on the Job to galvanize this group, and to create a community that can project the individual storytellers beyond competition to shared success.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

58-12 Design Lab is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization formed and registered in the State of California. In 2009, three friends at UCLA who were going into architecture, law, and business sought to use the power of good design in order create positive social change. They embarked on a journey that led them somewhere between anthropology, journalism, and design and this unique approach has continued as the organization now focuses on place-based, social research and media production that reveals the overlooked, the misunderstood, and the opaque.

Our organizations achievements are intimate, personal, and real: we engage directly with disenfranchised communities to make their stories heard. We are strong believers in the power of storytelling, and the achievements we are most proud of include a multi-media journalistic exploration of migrant workers around the 2008 World Expo in Shanghai, another exploration of an amazing community of people that live in buses in Venice, and a public awareness campaign for Los Angeles that encourages people to meet their neighbors.

We have also partnered with a number of individuals and institutions in order to achieve our goals, including designers, storytellers, researchers, and cool folks like the people at metaLAB at Harvard. They developed a web application called Zeega that we are currently working with to tell the story of Hmong communities in California, among other things.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We will collaborate directly with about fifty storytellers: poets, fiction and non-fiction authors, screenwriters and playwrights, journalists, and writers of all stripes. We will work with existing and up-and-coming institutions in Los Angeles in order to find the best and most diverse set of writers to work directly on this jobs-themed edition. Some of those institutions may include the Los Angeles Review of Books, UCLA and USC, 826LA, the Last Bookstore, and other similar organizations.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We will measure success one two fronts: First, we aim to create a beautiful, well-designed, riveting, pleasurable book that can be enjoyed by people around the world, by Angelenos, and at no cost to local public institutions. We will measure success through a rigorous editorial process for book production that will gauge responses and respond to those responses as we move forward. This will include responses from collaborators as we produce the book, from outside reviewers prior to production, and from the general public after the book is produced. This knowledge will build over time as we use the success from this initial volume to create the next LA Stories edition.

Second, we aim to foster a literary community in Los Angeles that is galvanized around the book series, and is in partnership with the variety of wonderful storytelling institutions around the city. We will measure success on this front by engaging in a meaningful way with writers, and by seeing them succeed on the world stage. We imagine that this project can be the catalyst the propels Los Angeles into the imagination of the world as the preeminent contemporary literary city, and that this success will map directly onto better employment and income for that largest and most underemployed job group in LA, storytellers.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Our project will directly benefit Los Angeles in three ways. First, it will provide an alternative medium through which we can understand our city and, in particular, understand its landscape of employment and income. By understanding this landscape, we can begin to understand not only better understand the problems that our city faces, but more importantly we can begin to know the right questions to ask as we move out of the recession and into a vibrant, productive city for the twenty-first century. This understanding will be directly encouraged through the free distribution of the volume to schools, libraries, and other public intuitions, providing these organizations an opportunity for community-building events, and directly providing them with a new resource.

Second, it will spark positive change through new mutual understanding, shared connections and experiences, and the perception of potential futures. Storytelling is the catalyst for change not only with income and employment, but also with a shared rapport across the entire city, and across its many neighborhoods and communities.

And third, it will provide employment and income to the largest and most underemployed group in Los Angeles: storytellers. By partnering with poets, fiction and non-fiction authors, screenwriters and playwrights, journalists, and writers of all stripes, we will foster a community out of what is currently a fragmented yet incredibly potential-filled group, and we will promote a new generation of literary greatness in Los Angeles.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Success in 2050 would look like this: Los Angeles would be known around the world as the preeminent city for contemporary literary culture. But more importantly, it would be known as a city that fosters creativity and keeps talent because of its supportive culture. It wouldn’t follow the conventional rules of high or low culture—just that culture would be produced, from kids in schools, to authors with books, to screenwriters collaborating on a spec script. It would be a city where people understand one another—their neighbors, the people groups that might be defined as “other,” and themselves. It would be a city where there is a vibrant economy with jobs and healthy incomes for all—and that the creative economy of storytellers would be the engine that drives this growth. Success for us, in 2050, would be the realization of a Los Angeles that is even more itself, that is home to the kind of culture that cannot be found anywhere else, of a Los Angeles where you would want to live, work, and create.