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create / 2014

Liberate Arts! Intersect Our Communities! Create a Liberation Arts Institute to make our own stories

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by LACE Center

CREATE Liberation Arts Institute to strategically support use of Liberation Arts among progressive organizations & to intersect communities

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

CREATE Liberation Arts Institute to strategically support use of Liberation Arts among progressive organizations & to intersect communities

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • Downtown- Skid Row Community; Watts and surrounding unincorporated regions

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Liberation Arts and Community Engagement (LACE) Center will create a more aesthetic & connected movement for social change through the Liberation Arts Institute 1) BUILD skills in Liberation Arts, including Theatre of the Oppressed, Playback Theatre, Community-Based Visual Arts, Public Performance– centering community storytelling 2) CONNECT communities in dialogue through collective arts– between campaigns about housing, mass incarceration, immigration, youth, gender and community-based responses to violence 3) OPEN access to arts resources to fill in a resource gap for many marginalized communities in Los Angeles 4) BUILD more culture of Liberation Arts, play, JOY within our social movements and day-to-day lives— VIVA la gente!

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

LACE Center currently has 4 community partners, and is developing one more: GENDER JUSTICE LA (a transgender rights and racial justice organization) TRUST SOUTH LA (a community land trust for affordable housing) CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL (Mar Vista Gardens in Culver City, a continuation high school) CHANGING WAYS (a theatre troupe of ex-lifers and formerly incarcerated youth workers). Each partner represents a different underheard experience in L.A., and each voice is represented on a Planning Team body that guides the path of the LACE Center. Each of these sites has ongoing Liberation Arts programs, and each program reaches different communities. For developing a LACE Institute, we are also partnered with Dignity and Power Now’s Freedom Harvest Arts Collective to gain from their experience of community curriculum development (Dandelions Rising Institute, #riseofthedandelions art series). Our primary team is made of 15 people, mostly from these organizations, who will carry out visioning, planning, logistically organizing, and team management as our Planning and Curriculum (PC) Team.

1) MONTH 1: SOLIDIFY PLANNING AND CURRICULUM (PC) TEAM, made of members and leaders from community partner organizations, community-based artists & educators, and other stakeholders as defined by our Planning Team.

2) MONTH 2: PLAN CURRICULUM AND GROUP PRIORITIES We have a couple classes in motion already, with a couple in progress. Theatre of the Oppressed Theory and Praxis Class (led by Brent Blair), and Playback Theatre Class (led by Joyce Lu), which will begin this fall, the PC Team will pick 2 other classes to be taught on a biweekly basis, that the PC team will help implement, and potentially teach a 3rd class about strategies.

3) MONTH 2-3: OUTREACH AND ENROLLMENT. Outreach to other progressive and forward-thinking orgs to be students/ co-participants. Our dream is to give some participant stipends so we can enhance working-class cultural work leadership, knowing that many folks cannot prioritize critical art and expressive work due to economic access.

4) MONTHS 3-6, 8-11: IMPLEMENT CLASSES. We will have evaluations after every class so we can stay up-to-date with the needs of the participants. The outcomes for participants will be certificates of completion for each, along with 2 public performances for the year.

5) MONTHS 7 AND 12: PERFORMANCE AND EVALUATION. Period to assess previous gains, and implement best process for upcoming period.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

All humans are creative– creative arts are a vital way that we can be human. Media and images are all around us– billboards, magazines, films and music, art is in our consciousness every day, shaped by powerful industries many based in L.A. However, access to creative arts resources is at an all time low among underserved communities– namely, low-income people of color, LGBT community, immigrant communities, youth and mothers. LAUSD has cut arts funding 76% in the last 5 years, and the industry of Hollywood is inaccessible to the majority of people in L.A.. Many other people (who have access and resource to do so) are telling stories about marginalized people in L.A., people who may have no experience LIVING in these communities, and as such, continue narratives of violence, poverty and trauma.

At LACE Center, we know that underserved communities are creative and resilient. We are part of these communities. The true stories about us are already there, but how do we learn how to share them with each other? How can we develop our aesthetic around our stories? And ultimately, how do we make systemic change possible through our visions and imaginations? Liberation Arts and Community Engagement (LACE) is not only about art-resources– it is a path through which we connect our struggles towards collective liberation. The LACE Institute is a way to spread seeds of tools, our communities make up the beautiful branches of experiences, and our visions, work, art make up the fragrance of the fruit and flowers of transformed conditions. LACE is playing games to devise theater. LACE is building a collective narrative through poetry lines. LACE is having dialogue not just through debate-like words, but also through embodied images that communicate on multiple layers. LACE Center is conscious of the power structures that exist, and learning how we are not only individually affected, but actually collectively affected. LACE is inclusive, seeking to build leaders in communities that are underrepresented, prioritizing sustainability through stipends. LACE is intersectional, bringing multiple experiences, identities and languages to create together. With LACE multiplied through LA, we will find common language and vision for a new LA in 2050, where play is encouraged, creativity is central to everyone’s daily life, and where we live in community with each other across borders and identities.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our project will benefit a few regions: Southeast L.A., South L.A., Culver City, Mid-City, Downtown L.A. (specifically Skid Row community).

Ultimately, LACE Center believes collective liberation is possible, where all people have basic needs met, and are able to grow, learn, thrive, connect, love, and express themselves according to their self-determined ways of being. LACE aims to shape individual and collective consciousness towards building a world that includes many worlds, by resisting oppression through the process of art-making, as well as through the resulting art piece. As such, we see that Liberation Arts and Community Engagement framework is for everyone so we may achieve collective liberation together.

We are a multi-racial, multi-gendered, multi-generational coalition of artists, organizers, activists, students and educators.

While our vision of collective liberation includes everyone, we also see a dire need for creative resources among particular communities. As such, we see ourselves as filling a gap, so our priorities in terms of the communities we serve will be- low-income communities, African-American communities, Latino communities, Asian Pacific Islander communities, LGBT community (specifically the under-resourced Transgender community), immigrant communities, community-based artists, community organizers, educators in our regions, counselors in our regions.

We see the impact of this grant reaching well beyond the institute participants. Each participant is part of a larger community, and part of their training is to create a Liberation Arts group in their own community using the skills they have learned in the institute. This allows even broader communities of people to be connected through the LACE Institute. We particular hope that families, classmates, spiritual communities, campaign-based organizations, grassroots organizations, people working in public schools build a firm grasp on Liberation Arts skills through the students/co-participants.

Our hope is that this project encourages more collaboration and co-investigation of people’s conditions. It is important to build the power of local communities in expressive arts, while also connecting people with different experiences. This question ultimately determines the way we decide what and with whom we build. By building a strong core of Liberation Artists from the bottom-up, we see an LA transformed for and by the people who are most affected.

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

The heart of the LACE Center is collaboration, these are relationships of 2 yrs:

Gender Justice L.A.: Collaboration confirmed, through Theatre of the Oppressed program; GJLA represents the grassroots voice of the transgender and gender non-conforming community in L.A., particularly of trans people of color.

Changing Ways: Confirmed; Represents theatre troupe of ex-lifers, formerly incarcerated peoples with long-term sentences, who work with incarcerated and impacted youth along with outreach to other ex-lifers.

TRUST South L.A.: Confirmed, through their affordable housing campaigns, and Escuelita program; TRUST South LA is a land trust committed to developing affordable housing for South LA residents

Central High School, Mar Vista Gardens site: Confirmed with educator sponsor, Vitaly; Central High School represents low-income youth of color who are excluded from the Culver City School District– Central is a safe, supportive and self-directed learning environment.

Dignity and Power Now: Confirmed with Freedom Harvest Art Collective program; DPN is an organization fighting for the rights and dignity of people impacted by incarceration, particularly around the L.A. jail system, the world’s largest jail.

Other Partners: Southern California Library: Confirmed space for classes in South L.A. and curriculum development support with librarians and historical archives.

Chucos Justice Center: Space in Inglewood, currently home to Changing Ways.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice: Unconfirmed, Space, through LDIR program

Three things to determining successful collaborations: 1) Culture of diversity, inclusion, and working through problems. We believe that diversity of experience, language, class, cultural background, gender, race, & age are essential to creating vibrant and effective programs, especially for a landscape of L.A. that holds so many stories. As such, part of our culture is inclusion and working through problems together, knowing there are certain things that we might not agree, but that being together and working through it is the most important.

2) Communication and consensus building. Because we honor so many people’s stories, Spanish translation & funds transparency is important. We also work through building consensus so that all voices are heard in decisions

3) Consistency to core vision of collective liberation and generating intersecting spaces to build our stories. Big-picture keeps us united.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Jobs per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Gini coefficient
  • Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)
  • Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions (Dream Metric)
  • Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)
  • Mass reach (How many people came to classes and performances); Social media Klout metrics for influence

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

LACE Center project will affect several of the metrics above. LACE Center is an art establishment serving regions of L.A. that do not host many creative industry spaces. With this, we are employing non-traditional folks within the creative industries, name formerly incarcerated people, people with homeless experience, transgender people, people of color, immigrants and youth (ages 16-24). These are key groups to develop leadership within as people most highly affected by systems of violence and oppression.

We believe in hiring non-traditional arts communities in order to build more creative industry skills within these communities. Our regions of focus as well are regions with fewer arts establishments, and so we are building the Arts establishment per capita metric as well. Our organization is also run by women of color, queer people, among other minority groups. As we are building our board, our aim is to have 70% women, 40% queer and transgender identified, and 70% people of color.

We believe our work effects the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality. By focusing on the leadership of non-traditional communities, not only are we increasing income for those disenfranchised groups, but we are also developing more positive, healing and creative spaces, which allows for broader communities to grow and develop. We are also providing forward thinking organizations with the access to liberation arts-based tools and resources to move forward on their visions as a means to create systemic income-inequality change.

We hope to influence soft power as well– through the production of images and stories from the bottom-up, and the utility of social media like facebook, tumblr, instagram and twitter, we can easily build up our reach of images to global influence, especially since many on the team have global connections and roots.

Finally, we hire formerly incarcerated people as part of our Changing Ways site program, as well as the Dignity and Power Now Freedom Harvest collective. This allows for these people to gain more solid network connections, share stories to heal from trauma around incarceration (key to breaking cycles of recidivism), and develop long-term visions for their organizations’ plan.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

1) Number of trained Liberation Arts Leaders (Multiplication of work)

  • How many of these leaders have experience of being formerly incarcerated?
  • How many of these leaders are youth?
  • How many of these leaders have homeless experience?
  • How many are transgender or gender non-conforming?
  • How many are leading intersectional conversations (planning events, leading conversations during classes and LACE events, etc.) METRIC: Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated; Employment in creative industries

2) New groups formed and youth outreach

  • Where is the new Liberation Arts group located? What kind of project is being developed?
  • Who is the greater community of this project? Are youth (ages 24 and under) involved?
  • How many different groups/communities are represented in each class?
  • Are youth able to gain class credit from this project?
  • Are different kinds of media being used for documentation and publicity? Use of social media? METRIC: Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”); Gini coefficient; Recruiting and retention rates at local higher education institutions

3) Arts, campaign-based, and cultural establishments per capita using liberation arts tools to do their work

  • Is Liberation Arts used as a tool in programming? To what goal or ends?
  • Is this group developing more opportunities for non-traditional leadership, learning styles, marginalized identities?
  • Is this establishment expanding the use of arts in connection with basic needs / campaign-based work?
  • How is this establishment using Liberation Arts to broaden their reach?

METRICS: Jobs per capita, Minority- and women-owned firms, Gini coefficient

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  • Art as a human right For many of us working at LACE Center, art was not just a fun afterschool activity, or a training to gain social capital. Art was and is a means of survival. Be it coming home to a community music gathering after a long week of working in exploitative environments, finding dance as a means to set boundaries and find liberation in one’s body, or developing community through designing a mural street art project, art is never disconnected from our day-to-day experiences of oppression. Poet Audre Lorde writes “[…]poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” The LACE Center believes that through collective creativity, we can change ourselves internally, healing wounds and trauma caused by oppressive systems. We can heal our communities collectively by sharing and witnessing stories, recognizing our struggles are shared, and our lives are connected. We can change our system by acknowledging these things, building skills and power to devise short and long-term strategies. Through Liberation Arts, all modes of thinking and learning are upheld, expanding accessible learning spaces and education. Ultimately, liberation arts allows everyone to be at the table to create a new vision, a new change in the world.

  • In our experience as community organizers and leaders, the rapid pace of work that determines policy change often did not allow much space to connect with other organizers, develop strategies, vision and create art, and ultimately reflect on our movement work. With LACE Center, we hope to hold that space for other folks doing important policy change work. We hope to fill a gap that allows folks to slow down, reflect, create art, build skills in ways that are accessible to many people. We hope to enhance the images, the aesthetics, the humor, the beauty and creativity coming out of progressive movements. We hope to support social change as a shift towards more joy and creativity, as well as towards more dignity and justice. Finally, we hope to build more unification and collaboration between campaigns, and knock down walls of competitions through dialogue, play and art.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

For a more extensive timeline, please see the implementation plan above. We believe a couple of aspects will especially support our project within 12 months.

1) A collective where everyone has ownership over our organization and work. Because we work with a consensus based model, everyone is heard and the skills everyone brings are valued. That means that no one person will take on the entirety of the work that needs to get done, we will always be working as a team.

2) With a structure that allows for a public performance or sharing after each class period, we will be able to have periodic opportunities for heightened visibility to recruit more people to participate in our classes and volunteer with our institute.

3) Evaluation is highly important, and we are committed to evaluation so that the changes that need to happen inevitably with a new project can happen real time rather than the next period of classes.

4) Much of this work is rooted in the experiences and lessons from an ongoing collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Masters Program in Applied Theatre Arts. This program no longer exists, and now the LACE Center houses these ongoing projects. These experiences taught us how to navigate institutions, where to build our ongoing supportive relationships, and ways that intersectional exchange is possible. This relationship allowed us to build relationships and rapport for almost 2 years with this work, and now there is a visible and powerful community supporting the work of Liberation Arts.

Along with this, hiring a Program Coordinator will allow all the pieces of this project to go along smoothly logistically, with the Planning Team to support. We have been waiting for an opportunity like this, and are ready to hit the ground running, wasting no time!

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Two challenges we anticipate are 1) ensuring consistent participation and 2) consistently maintaining a process that is sustainable for everyone at the table.

Consistent participation is often difficult when many other life priorities are presented to our communities. As such, we hope that stipended positions offer more incentive for people to be present at these vital trainings. We also will schedule our classes based on what the needs in the room are, who is interested in which classes, and allowing for check-in moments when participants are not able to show up. Providing support for transportation with the resources we have will also help people be present in the space. Ultimately, this is a challenge that we have worked on several systems to improve, but we do anticipate this as an ongoing dynamic considering our work and the communities we serve.

We also anticipate difficulties in maintaining a consistent process that honors everyone’s effort at the table, allowing this process to be sustainable. Here are some ideas to support this anticipated challenge:

  • continue to have regular meetings to check-in and speak openly
  • Rejuvenation plans for our core planning and curriculum team, and class leaders
  • Pre-create written materials with Spanish translation
  • Create realistic goals and timelines
  • Develop work teams that are centralized around planning committee to create more unity
  • Affirm each others work, even when we need to shift. Make sure everyone is heard in the process, and that we are able stay true to our vision of collective liberation.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach