create / 2014

Poesia Para La Gente & Writ Large Press Present: The Neighborhood Literary-scape Project

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Avenue 50 Studio

Our project cultivates local businesses, public service facilities and non-traditional spaces into a Neighborhood Literary-scape.


Please describe yourself.

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

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Our project cultivates local businesses, public service facilities and non-traditional spaces into a Neighborhood Literary-scape.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

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

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The Neighborhood Literary-scape Project is a collaborative urban place-making and economic development project. Avenue 50 Studio and Writ Large Press will utilize our wide-ranging partnerships and over 14 years of experience in literary arts in L.A. to institute the Neighborhood Literary-scape Project. This project seeks to unearth our local literary arts as a key urban resource for place-making, public discourse, education and economic revitalization in the most culturally diverse, yet economically struggling, neighborhoods throughout LA. It will do so by turning local businesses, public service facilities, and public spaces not typically thought of as arts locales into places for the cultivation, publication, and performance of poetry.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The project will facilitate a series of 7 three-part programs.

Each program will begin with a 5-day poetry workshop held at a service facility/organization typically lacking in opportunities for literary participation - e.g. women’s shelter, foster care facility, day laborers center. These workshops will be facilitated by a published and acclaimed poet, feature a guest poet speaker for inspiration, and result in preparation of participants’ poems for publication.

The second phase will result in the publication of the work created during the workshop. The books will be published by Writ Large Press, the proceeds of which will go to support future literary projects, and/or for fundraising purposes for the organization where the workshop was held.

In the final phase, both workshop participants (and/or their families) and a selection of acclaimed poets, who are local to the specific neighborhood, will read their published work at an open mic book launch at a selected local business as a means of attracting new customers, - e.g. a small produce market, a laundromat, or a bakery. The local business will then have the option of selling the book at their facility.

At the culmination of the year-long project, we will celebrate the publication of the entire 7 book series at larger book launch event(s), to be held at a public space(s), venue(s) and bookstore(s). The series of 7 books will be made available for purchase individually or as a complete series box set, to be sold at local bookstores, and possibly state and nation-wide.

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

First, The Neighborhood Literary-scape Project prompts residents and visitors to think about literary talent and inspiration as lying deep but unseen within a city neighborhood, rather than merely imported to performance venues or bookstores. We would especially like to unearth and highlight the expressive traditions of local communities of color, whose members engage in spoken word and other oral genres.

Second, we would like to make poetry a resource for finding and publishing the voices, of individuals within organizations such as women’s shelters that lack educational and artistic resources that may also prove to validate their artistic expressions through published works.

This project utilizes and builds upon Avenue 50 Studio and Writ Large Press’ on-going partnerships within the visual, musical, and literary arts communities of Los Angeles, creating a sustainable network of collaborations that could change the entire scope of the literary community of Los Angeles.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our project seeks to highlight and legitimize local literary voices as a means for sparking public discourse and energizing the authentic spaces of the city. The neighborhood becomes, in effect, a literary event space, a literary-scape. The goal therefore is to not only continue drawing new visitors to the underserved neighborhoods of Los Angeles, but to draw their attention to overlooked or unusual spaces and to explore the idea that art can be everywhere and benefit everyone. In lieu of economic development being tied solely to new outsider business, this project cultivates and highlights the rich resources, everyday sites, and traditions of the existing community, enabling residents, local artists, and established businesses to benefit from the area’s increasing economic vitality, rather than being replaced.

In addition, much research has been done on the benefits of writing poetry. For instance, in his book, “Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions,” acclaimed psychologist and researcher on the benefits of writing, Dr. James W. Pennebaker, suggests that writing about emotional topics improves the immune system by reducing “stress, anxiety and depression…” Poetry has long been used in support groups for people coping with grief, mental illness, cancer, and other illnesses. The poets who will facilitate the workshops, who we’ve received commitments from, have experience in teaching poetry to this advantage.

Specifically, this project would benefit the residents of 7 service facilities typically lacking in opportunities for literary participation - e.g. women’s shelter, foster care facility, day laborers center. It would also benefit their families, friends and neighbors who will take part in the celebrating of their published work through the book launch events. The events will be promoted in a way that would encourage and inspire the community-at-large to celebrate literary arts, and to recognize it as a much-needed, accessible and expressive art form.

The project would benefit the local businesses that would host the events. By promoting the business as a sponsoring partner, they will not only draw new visitors, but we would also help to establish the place of business as a “friend” of the art community, thereby helping to build a sustainable marketplace. Teachers, facilitators, educators and local vendors would also be utilized in the production of the workshops, publications and events.

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

The Neighborhood Literary-scape Project brings together the following confirmed and committed partners: 1) Avenue 50 Studio’s Poesia Para La Gente program and 2) Writ Large Press.

Poesia Para La Gente (Poetry for the People) is a program that brings poetry to the people of the community in non-traditional spaces/places. Economic hardship or various forms of social stigmas have affected some of these places, in one way or another, all locations are unique in providing a safe setting for artistic expression. Some of the places that Poesia Para La Gente has collaborated with and/or performed at have been the Metro train, Home Depot Day Laborer Job Centers, Guerrero’s Produce Market, Homeboy Industries, Grand Park Book Fest (poetry on demand), the local laundromat, etc. http://avenue50studio.org/poesia-para-la-gente

Writ Large Press is an independent publisher, which has partnered with Poesia Para La Gente since 2013 to produce free literary events throughout Los Angeles, including Libros Para La Gente, which brings free books to low-income neighborhoods. This project adds targeted educational and business development dimensions to these efforts. www.writlargepress.com

Avenue 50 Studio and it’s Poesia Para La Gente staff will market, produce, and document the project, and engage acclaimed poets from L.A. and throughout California to facilitate 5-day workshops and perform their work at book launches. They will also organize visual artists, and assist in the production of the events. Writ Large Press will commit staff resources for publication and distribution of the new work in a series of 7 books, and will organize musicians, sound, and projection equipment for the book launch events. www.avenue50studio.org

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

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Minority- and women-owned firms
  • Venture capital investment

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

The local businesses that we plan on collaborating with are either owned by women, people of color, or small businesses that are at risk of displacement due to gentrification, or have been threatened by some form of economic hardship.

Our project seeks to employ artists, writers, musicians, and educators as facilitators of the 7 workshops. We would also supply honorariums to musicians and poets who would be performing at the book launch events.

This project could serve as an influence to the literary community at large, by demonstrating an alternative way to approach the business of publishing.

We plan to seek funding opportunities via venture capital investment, to sustain the project past the Fall 2015 commencement date, should this projected be funded by LA2050.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Workshops, attendance, and book launches will be documented by an ethnographer trained in qualitative methods of video recording, interviewing, and narrative description. Utilizing the same method for calculating attendance that Poesia Para La Gente has used at its regular events, Poesia Para La Gente bookmarks will be distributed to every attendee at all events. Interviews will be conducted to gather their impressions and suggestions for improvement, and will be displayed in a project blog linked to Avenue 50 Studio’s website. Books will be sold at events, bookstores and local businesses and bookkeeping practices can be used to keep track of revenues.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. Provide a safe, nurturing, inviting, and much needed space as a platform for expression, and the community will use it.

  2. Avenue 50 Studio curates and creates artistic and educational initiatives that explore relationships between society and art. Over the past thirteen years we have organized over 100 exhibits and shown over 300 artists in the visual and literary arts. In 2011 the receipt of a James Irvine Foundation grant enabled us to undertake a number of projects that have made us an important facilitator of community engagement in Los Angeles. One of these is our community poetry program, Poesia Para La Gente, which brings poetry performances to sites underserved by artistic opportunities. We have served the Los Angeles Latina/o community and more specifically the communities of Northeast L.A., with a focus on artistically underserved populations of all backgrounds.

In the last year we served 9,963 people from our community. Approximately 50% of the people we served are Latina/o, 30% white, 10% African American, 6% Asian and Pacific Islander, 1% American Indian, and 3% Other. It’s through this experience we’ve discovered that the need for inter-community engagement and dialogue through artistic expression is greater than we could imagine.

Our project seeks to find powerful and long-lasting ways of tying together the voices, stories and fortunes of the under-represented residents, local artists, newcomers, and long-time businesses, as well as old and new residents alike, of all backgrounds. And through our past collaborations with Writ Large Press, we’ve learned that the best way to validate these now-accessible artistic expressions is through the publication of their work.

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

Writ Large Press has a long history of creating engaging and successful events within the Los Angeles community, in collaboration with numerous producers, musicians and literary talent. In committing to this project they’ve outlined a timeline for having manuscripts ready for print, and vendors in place for the production of the book launch events.

Avenue 50 Studio will utilize our wide-ranging partnerships throughout Los Angeles, to secure the social service facilities and nearby businesses for workshops and events. We have commitments in place from poets who would facilitate the workshops and who will feature at the book launch events.

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

One challenge would be to convince the local businesses that there is indeed value in building relationships with a social service organization, publisher and local poets. This would only apply to those businesses we haven’t yet made a commitment with, as several businesses have committed to this project, or have expressed interest. One way to tackle this challenge would be to implement effective means of evaluating the outcome of the first completed program (of the 7). By calculating attendance and books sales, and evaluating the marketing and promotional analytics, we would be able to compile a presentation for their benefit.

Another challenge that an organization would normally have with this sort of community-based project would be to convince the community that poetry matters. Given the proven record of achievement that Writ Large Press and Avenue 50 Studio has had with bringing literary events to public spaces, rather than being a barrier for us to overcome, this is something that we excel at, and are excited to embark on this journey!

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Community outreach