Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013

Tia Chuchas Centro Culturals Arts Transforms Community A Multimedia Wellness Project

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore

Poor communities are usually portrayed as fonts of violence, stagnant thinking and deficit outcomes. But we at Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural see the poor as rich with talents, skills and imaginations. Every person, even without outside resources, is by nature regenerative. The concept behind arts-based healing workshops is to tap into and draw out this abundant capacity to establish healthy lives, families, and culture – even in a faltering economy. A new currency of restoring and transforming from one's own gifts opens up a new imagination of how to relate by giving and getting, with healing practices and disciplines. This is about renewing community rooted in caring and sharing.

The objective is to get everyone to live out their passions, their innate story, the "dream" they were born with. These yearlong weekly workshops in 2013 will pull from this largely indigenous concept and set up the nexus where people are expressive in modern times. There is enough evidence and anecdotal illustrations of how the arts transform lives and communities.

Presently we are held in the paralysis of a market driven scarcity society. Mortgages, the wage system, and money are man-made illusions that have blinded us to the true source of our liberation – the abundance in nature, in our imaginations, and in the proper relationships between our natures and the nature around us. The goal is to reclaim the personal authority and autonomy for every person so they can properly intertwine with and grow from community on a basis of cooperation.

The Northeast San Fernando Valley is made up of indigenous rooted people, primarily from Mexico and Central America, with significant numbers of African Americans, Asians, and European Americans. The majority are Christians/Catholics; Arts Transforms Community workshops are not meant to challenge or change anyone's belief systems. Through the arts and imaginative practices, everything gets renewed and reaffirmed. Still we go back to indigenous sources of knowledge because of their perennial quality across time, places and circumstances.

Our complex industrial world has disconnected us from these and many people are lost as a result. Our basic premise is that the healthy well-being of each is dependent on the healthy well-being of all – and the inverse: the healthy well-being of all is predicated on the healthy well-being of each. The goal of Tia Chucha's arts workshops – including music, dance, theater, writing, puppetry, photography, painting, and more – is to create a new basis for wellness with indicators and outcomes not clinical or bureaucratic.

We aim to be the example that a whole community approach to addressing trauma and economic instability utilizes the arts to heal and revitalize. Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore has seen such possibilities whenever people are given spaces to learn, to create, and to deliver. We use a process of turning original ideas to execution with research/study, mentorship and organization. The arts are not just a “nice thing to do,” but vital to the new economy and digital world we are all entering. We need a new imagination – with new content and new forms – to align to the possibilities in this world.

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

The Northeast San Fernando Valley is a community of 500,000 – the size of the City of Oakland – yet it had no bookstores, movie houses, art galleries, or full fledged cultural spaces until Tia Chucha’s opened its doors twelve years ago. We now provide a bookstore, a deli/ artisan shop, arts workshops, an art gallery, film nights, weekly Open Mics, community dialogues, and author readings. In addition we host Young Warriors, a youth empowerment group, often working with troubled youth through mentors, rites of passage, and the arts as well as own poetry press, Tia Chucha Press, and the only outdoor annual literacy festival for the greater San Fernando Valley: “Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung.” We have a Mexica (so-called Aztec) danza resident group, Temachtia Quetzalcoatl, officially sanctioned to teach and perform this art form from pre-conquest Mexico and Central America. Also since Tia Chucha’s creation we’ve seen the birth of independent groups like El Hormiguero (the Anthill), Bikesanos Bike Club, the San Fernando Arts Collective, Youth Speak Collective’s Sports, Mural, Gardening and Digital Arts projects, and the establishment of a new high school with academies in Social Justice and Humanities, the Arts as well as Engineering and Technology called the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies. Our presence in a mostly run-down strip mall with many uninhabited spaces has brought new small businesses and even a major market chain. Tia Chucha’s has proven that the arts stimulates economic activity while helping reduce violence, apathy, and low school participation.

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

We presently facilitate arts workshops and the Young Warriors project with El Nido Family Resource Center in Pacoima, one of the poorest communities in Los Angeles County. We have partnered with Los Angeles Mission Community College in Sylmar to do our “Celebrating Words” festivals. We have done workshops and talks at the Barry Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, the largest juvenile lockup in North America. We have conducted talks and workshops in Sylmar and San Fernando high schools, Discovery Prep Charter, the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies, the Maclay and Olive Vista middle schools, among others. And we have had about 10 schools from the L.A. area a year do field trips to Tia Chucha’s to see first hand what we do. We plan to extend these.

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

We presently serve 14,000 children, teens, adults, and seniors a year at Tia Chucha’s. Our staff has surveys on paper and from head counts. We also do analysis of all our workshops for content, form, and outcomes. Already in twelve years, we have seen higher school participation and the rise of imaginative ways to do the arts and projects like gardening, mural projects, activist collectives, and more. Our facilitators and instructors work with us to evaluate the growth of each participant in the arts and in the community. We also hold monthly Community Council Meetings open to the staff, facilitators/instructors, volunteers, and board members to evaluate and propose what we do at Tia Chucha’s and how we can do better.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is called “the Entertainment Capital of the World.” It has a creative economy that generates close to $4 billion in state tax revenues, employs a million people in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and accounts for $100 billion in sales/receipts in L.A. County alone. Yet there are whole areas, whole neighborhoods, often for miles on end, where there are no bookstores, no movie houses, no art galleries, no cultural spaces. These culturally barren sections include South Central L.A., East L.A., the Harbor, and the Northeast San Fernando Valley. The arts are concentrated in downtown, the shoreline, Hollywood, museum row, and such. We are not opposed to these vital tourist-laden centers of culture and commerce. But we need a neighborhood arts policy in Los Angeles so that every community can benefit from cultural store fronts, independent bookstores, public art projects including murals, workshops in all the arts, digital arts, and more. Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural’s “Art Transforms Community” workshops prove this works in any neglected and resource-limited area of the city. Flavored by the people of the Northeast San Fernando Valley, Tia Chucha’s is a model of how every community can have its own cultural wellness center – they can name it for someone else’s aunt if they wish. The point is that the arts are they key “log,” the one stake that when moved opens up a logjam. The arts reach across ethnicity, race, religion, and culture. The arts are the unity-in-diversity that finds commonality and wholeness to one of the most divided and contentious cities in America.

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

Everyone is laden with creativity, ideas and an abundance of talent. Liberating this will make 2050 a more peaceful, cooperative and thriving time. The future is moving toward integrality: How to integrate mind, body and soul in people, but also aligning the economy, politics, and culture to the regenerative power in such people and the regenerative capacity in nature. We will move away from the brokenness, alienation and fracturing that is prevalent in our time. The main direction is this–to become a complete human being means becoming a complete artist. Oppressive and exploitative conditions, which are rife in today’s post industrial realities, are already being pushed away by the technological advancements and the intellectual/creative developments in our society. 2050 should see all this taken to its conclusion–a world where the common love of beauty and truth brings science and art into a unified whole. A time when people’s passions becomes their professions, and working for others means working for oneself. This does not mean homogenizing everyone, but a true individuation that at the same time leads to the common development, rise and enrichment of all. If there were cultural spaces like Tia Chucha’s everywhere, we can begin to see the building blocks of such a future, such possibilities, such an integral time and place.