For The Love Of L.A.
Karen Mack, LA Commons
I was thrilled to get the call from Daniel Soto to work on The Music Center’s For the Love of L.A. project. Our organizations share the desire to provide platforms for artists to inspire, engage and empower their fellow Angelenos in meaningful creative pursuits. Since 2000, we at LA Commons have, in partnership with local artists, supported communities in claiming public spaces, making room for people—particularly young people—in marginalized places to assert their identities. By engaging these communities in artistic and cultural expression that tells their unique stories, we create the basis for dialogue, interaction and an enhanced sense of belonging.
We believe that art is a powerful tool for sharing stories and fostering change, and that artists have a leadership role to play in creating a thriving city. With this in mind, we have worked with incredible creators over the years, selected based on their artistic practice and their interest in taking up the challenge of community collaboration. Let me note that we have found these creators in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, particularly in South L.A., the place where I grew up and work today.
In selecting artists for this project, the driving concern was their interest in sharing authentic, compelling narratives of their Los Angeles, specifically South Los Angeles. Amani Holbert is an incredible young artist we first met as a top youth team member on our Heart of Hyde Park She marries exceptional art-making skills with a passion for working in community. Dominique Moody is a Los Angeles treasure with an amazing practice that centers on assemblage. She is a master at transforming found objects into inspiring narratives about the L.A. experience.
For the Love of L.A. started just before the protests erupted following the murder of George Floyd. Even before that, we had been working with the theme “Black Joy” for our 10th Annual Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks. Once the unrest started, I wrote about Black Joy as an act of resistance and knew I wanted to find a third artist whose work aligned with this idea. Enter photographer Stephanie Mei-Ling whose photographs of Black people engaged in protest are incredibly beautiful.
The questions I asked the artists to respond to in art and words included:
What inspires you about our city and specifically your community?
What is your creative vision for the future?
Although each artist responded in their own way to the prompt, they all found inspiration in the beauty of our city and the optimism and resilience of the people that live here. This provides a jumping off point for creative visions that place Angelenos, many who have been here over generations, at the center of a process to change Los Angeles for the better because people in all communities are unapologetically free to be themselves and to create the world they want to live in.
Twenty years ago, Karen Mack created the South L.A.-based nonprofit LA Commons based on a vision of communities where everyone has the access and freedom to express themselves culturally and to tap the power that creativity provides. Since that time, Mack and her team have worked in neighborhoods across the city, implementing artistic programs that foster interaction, dialogue and collaboration for a better Los Angeles. LA Commons plays a unique role as a facilitator of local engagement in arts and culture as well as in other important issues—health, transportation and education to name a few, giving residents and particularly young people a voice and an onramp to making positive change. Prior to working with LA Commons, Mack served as a public service fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University where she researched the role of culture in community building. She is currently a mayoral appointee to the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission and supervisorial appointee to L.A. County’s Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative. Mack is also a national co-chair for Creative Placemaking from the Community Up.