Making the Case for Skid Row Culture: Findings from a Collaborative Inquiry by the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) and the Urban Institute
Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) is a Skid Row-based theater organization, founded and directed by artist John Malpede. LAPD has distinguished itself by its longstanding commitment to making change in L.A.’s Skid Row community, particularly regarding the homeless, through theater-based civic engagement work. Many have observed LAPD’s apparent potent effects on individuals and on social relations in Skid Row, and acknowledge its contributions to influencing structures, systems, and even policy. As part of Animating Democracy’s Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative, LAPD and Urban Institute senior researcher, Maria Rosario Jackson engaged in field research that provides a foundation to recurrently identify, monitor, and assess the presence, density and richness of the cultural infrastructure of the Skid Row neighborhood. They undertook this research as a first step towards recommending data collection practices and tools that can help to bring into relief cultural assets in the Skid Row community, residents’ cultural needs and aspirations and the infrastructure or set of resources required to make cultural participation possible. Undergirding their collaborative inquiry are the ideas that cultural participation builds and strengthens social networks that potentially lead to increased social capital and collective efficacy; and that cultural participation is essential in helping to create a healthy environment and normative neighborhood. Malpede and Jackson believe that with their proposed inventory of cultural vitality and recurrent information about various aspects of it, Skid Row community leaders can more effectively carry out the work of improving quality of life in the neighborhood. The framework would enable Skid Row cultural as well as community agencies that use arts and culture to see their work as part of a larger system and to create an asset-focused narrative for Skid Row that can help shift or expand the ways outsiders perceive the Skid Row community. This may enable people outside of the Skid Row neighborhood to better understand its cultural dimensions and help shift or expand the ways outsiders perceive the Skid Row community. This may, in turn, catalyze and inform new investments in Skid Row.