learn / 2020

Big City Lab

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Fulcrum Arts

With the support of LA 2050 Big City Forum proposes to expand Big City Lab: a social practice and design education initiative founded by artist and educator Leonardo Bravo. The focus for Big City Lab is the urban environment as a site for meaning making and building critical thinking skills and social responsibility for students. We will partner with four schools within the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy campuses in the greater MacArthur Park area to impact their middle and high school students enrolled in the Ethnic Studies 4 All program.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

  • Camino Nuevo Charter Academy school network

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

The lead collaborator for the project will be the charter school network - Camino Nuevo Charter Academy that run eight campuses in the MacArthur Park, Westlake, and Pico Union neighborhoods in Central Los Angeles. In working directly with CNCA administrators and principals four schools out of their network will be selected to participate in the Big City Lab program.

What is the need you’re responding to?

Through this yearlong arts education project, students from low-income communities in the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy network come together to explore their history, social conditions, neighborhoods, and storylines. CNCA facts: 95% are Latino 96% are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, based on their family incomes 79% enter school as English language learners 12% receive special education services

Big City Lab aims to reinforce CNCA’s efforts to meet the needs of its student population through the promotion of literacy for their students. Experience with design, art, and socially engaged art practices—though not typically considered foundational to strengthen literacy—is a vital missing link for youth learners to engage and foster literacy skills. Through their direct engagement with design and art students develop the visual, auditory and kinesthetic skills key to fostering the “21st century skills” of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?

In 2016 we received a grant from the SPArt Foundation to pilot Big City Lab at Camino Nuevo Miramar High School in the MacArthur Park neighborhood. Through Big City Lab students explored the history, story lines, and social conditions embedded in their communities by examining issues related to identity, storytelling, social justice, and public space. By working with professionals in the areas of urban planing and design, photo journalism, and creative writing students were able to use tools in these disciplines to develop an entire research methodology that allowed them to understand how these issues impact their own communities and began to shape their own perspectives to build a sense of how they can impact change. Most importantly the project allowed the students to develop their own critical thinking about these issues by putting forth strategies in which they could express their own perspectives. The goal is to replicate the program with far more students across CNCA schools.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

By focusing on the arts as a catalyst for change and growth, Big City Lab aims to reach out and bring together underserved youth by providing students with opportunities to learn and collaborate with professional artists, designers, writers, and activists. Youth from low-income, underserved populations are in environments that are limiting in many aspects, and fails to recognize or activate students’ full potential. Exposing them to paths of possibility and potential gives students the opportunity to know what they can achieve. Big City Lab develops bridges to community, helping students shape a vision for their neighborhoods in the short term, while aiming to develop a sustained, equitable vision for transformative social change.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

My vision for success for Big City Lab is based on bringing youth together who learn to think critically and express their thoughts and opinions on relevant issues about their own lives. Within every aspect of the program we strive to create a space, free of judgement, where questioning and challenging assumed notions, creating dialogue, and using creativity as a tool is highly valued and encouraged.

Some of the most valuable feedback from the initial Big City Lab pilot in 2016 was the students’ comments regarding a sense of community in the cohort and being able to express themselves openly and freely. Upon culmination of the program, many youth expressed that they had found their voice and felt like they have the abilities and the power to make real change in their communities.

From a more quantitative perspective Big City Lab will track program success during the grant period through observation and by administering pre and post-program evaluations to all student participants. This will help assess their prior knowledge and compare how students felt at the beginning of the program to how they felt and what they learned by the conclusion of the program.

We will also know that the program has been successful when staff and facilitator observations and student evaluations reflect improvement in how students feel about their confidence levels, leadership skills, and interpersonal relationships with their peers and instructors, their ability to make an impact on their community, their overall understanding of activism and the various art forms that were taught. We will also track program retention rates as a measure of success.

In addition, while college readiness is not a formal part of the program, I believe that the overall program helps equip young people with the skills necessary for college success and offering access to a creative learning environment where they can envision themselves thriving.

A final outcome, extending into the future, is that Big City Lab aims to foster the establishment of a signature program that allows Camino Nuevo Charter Academy schools to conduct community outreach and identify prospective middle and high school students in the community. Big City Lab thus can support their academic goals and provide greater opportunity for long-term success. Furthermore, Big City Lab becomes a testing ground to study how, and the ways in which, students can cultivate the development of transferable life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and collaboration.

Which of the learn metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Arts education
  • College matriculation
  • High school graduation rates

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?

  • LA is the best place to CREATE

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?

  • Access to the LA2050 community
  • Host public events or gatherings
  • Office space for meetings, events, or for staff
  • Strategy assistance and implementation