Los Angeles Poverty Department: Telling Skid Row’s Story Through Art

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, August 21st, 2014

LAPD ParadeShopping carts and makeshift residences created from cardboard boxes and salvaged materials line the sidewalks of Los Angeles’ Central City East neighborhood. The area, which is better known as Skid Row, is located in the downtown area of the City of Angels. It is home to the largest population of homeless residents in the United States. Approximately 5,000 neighborhood residents are homeless, and an estimated 42% of people in the area are living below the poverty line. The Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) is on a mission to tell their story. Skid Row performance artistsThe LAPD is a non-profit dedicated to building community and showcasing the creative potential of LA’s Skid Row residents. The organization was founded in 1985 by director-performer-activist John Malpede. LAPD was the first performance group in the nation made up primarily of homeless people, and the first arts program of any kind for homeless people in Los Angeles.

Each year, they conceptualize and launch various campaigns and events designed to tell the story of this unique neighborhood. Many of the events they host help to raise awareness about Skid Row, build a normative community, and make connections with grassroots organizations and service providers in the area. The Los Angeles Poverty Department aims to reframe the dialog around some important issues related to poverty in the United States. Topics like homelessness, gentrification, addiction, drug rehabilitation, incarceration, policy reform, and women and children in poverty are commonly addressed through the LAPD’s campaigns and events. LAPD FestivalThis fall, the Los Angeles Poverty Department will be hosting their 5th annual Festival for All Skid Row Artists. The Festival will be held in Gladys Park, in the heart of downtown LA, on October 18-19th. The LAPD has partnered with community organizations United Coalition East and the Lamp Arts Program in the production of this year’s event. The annual Festival for All Skid Row Artists was developed to tell the story of Skid Row’s residents through visual and performance art. Local artists who live and work in the neighborhood will have the opportunity to perform and exhibit their work for Central City East residents and members of the greater Los Angeles community in attendance. The Los Angeles Poverty Department is responsible for organizing the annual Festival schedule and documenting artists’ work through a registry and archive that’s updated each year.

Nearly 80 artists participated in last years’ Festival for All Skid Row Artists. The 4th annual event featured live performances by local poets, musicians, singers, dancers, and visual artists. The majority of participants who exhibited their work at last years’ event were Skid Row residents, and a few select artists from the greater Los Angeles area were also invited to participate in the Festival. Melek Zakaryah and the Black Onyx, a group of musicians living in the Skid Row neighborhood, set the tone for last years’ event with their high-energy kickoff performance. Festival for All Skid Row ArtistsLAPD’s work is deeply inspiring because it seeks to reframe the narrative around this community. Instead of perpetuating stereotypes, the Los Angeles Poverty Department helps provide a forum for residents to tell their own stories. The organization is founded and run by artists who understand the power of art to incite change. In particular, the group’s work seeks to support initiatives by community members and bring access to services to the area. The LAPD offers an important model of how organizations can tackle important issues at the intersection of art and social justice. The upcoming Festival for All Skid Row Artists is a chance for Central City East’s most creative residents to come together and share their community’s unique perspective through their artwork. Local artists can register for the Festival on the Los Angeles Poverty Department website.

Images: Los Angeles Poverty Department

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