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Neighborhood Interpretive Center

Grafik Neighborhood Interpretive Center © Goethe-Institut

About the Neighborhood Interpretive Center

The Neighborhood Interpretive Center is a hyperlocal initiative of cultural programs that focus on and uplift the MacArthur Park/Westlake neighborhood and surrounding areas. An open call for cultural workers and creatives sought innovative and engaging projects, relevant to the MacArthur Park/Westlake community. Extra consideration was given to the following: cultural workers and creatives that live or work in the MacArthur Park/Westlake community or surrounding areas; proposals that demonstrate a greater understanding of the unique history, dynamics, heritage, and distinctiveness of the area; proposals that include work from artists that qualify as under-recognized and that contribute to the on-going commitment to diversity. The selection committee chose five projects from a large number of proposals.
 

In the fall of 2021, the Goethe-Institut opened an interdisciplinary project space in the MacArthur Park/Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Goethe-Institut Los Angeles has worked together with local partners and cultural workers to conduct focus groups to better understand what the community would like the new space to be. The Goethe-Institut Los Angeles was invited to join the community advisory council initiated by the Levitt Pavilion, where they could connect to and listen to the thoughts of various initiatives and organizations in and around the neighborhood. Through this process, the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles determined to use the project space as a host for people and cultures in the area and as a platform to present projects directly relevant to the MacArthur Park/Westlake community and surrounding neighborhoods. This focus on direct cooperation with local communities is also at the heart of Goethe-Institut's work globally.

Festival de Barriletes

For the past four years, on November 1st, All Saints' Day, giant kites have been created and installed at MacArthur Park as part of the annual Festival de Barriletes LA. Through kites inspired by Maya communities, art, and traditions, the festival seeks to commemorate and amplify the struggles of people whose lives have been lost to various forms of state violence. At the Goethe-Institut, writer, artist, and educator Byron Jose led a series of English-language immersion training and kite construction workshops for Maya children and im/migrant youth displaced in the MacArthur Park area. Participants acquired language skills, learned about indigenous communities in Guatemala, and how they celebrate this day to honor and send messages to their dead through giant colorful kites. The Goethe-Institut Project space served as the venue for the kite-building workshops and a final exhibition of the kites created for the 5th annual installation.

Vibing with Cultural Leafs

With the understanding that cultural awareness can help us better understand differences and cross barriers, cultural worker Pauletta Pierce led an eight-week workshop for Westlake community members aged 13-24 who have little or no experience in the arts that explored how bias and information are processed as a way of understanding culture. At the Goethe-Institut, Pierce implemented Zaretta Hammond's "Culture Tree" teaching model, where participants constructed a mixed media Culture Tree presentation called "Vibing with Cultural Leafs." With an emphasis on the rich, diverse cultural history of the Westlake/MacArthur Park neighborhood and cooperation with local artists like Pop Locker Street Dancer O.G. Jeckle, teaching artist Joan Zamora, and Youth IT Video Creator Angelique R. Hurtado, various disciplines, including dance, video production, and street art, were integral parts of the workshops. The project culminated with a public presentation of the participants' "Culture Tree" at the Goethe-Institut.

Voices in the Water

This storytelling, movement, and memory sound installation by Robin Garcia and Nefertiti Altan, incorporated an afro-diasporic storytelling format to reflect on the stories, songs, and significance of water from the diasporic, immigrant, black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities in and around the MacArthur Park/Westlake area. The team drew on their experience working in and around the area and their experience using contemporary dance methods. A remembering/oral history methodology was utilized to activate the vibrational consciousness of memory in the body, making for a somatic experience as community members shared their ancestral and cultural stories about water. Black and indigenous elders and culture bearers participated in the storytelling project, further anchoring and highlighting surrounding communities' cultural and ancestral traditions. The stories gathered served as the platform for an immersive soundscape of intertwining voices, sounds, and rhythms designed to fill the gallery space in a call-and-response format.

Disrupting the Mainstream 

For thirty-five years, Grupo de Teatro SINERGIA has produced predominantly original works in Spanish and English. The plays have been directed and performed by L.A. Latinx/Mexican and Central American theatre artists. In 1994, under the Artistic Direction of Rubén Amavizca-Murúa, the group moved into what is now The FRIDA KAHLO Theater in the Westlake district of Los Angeles. The group's productions focus on historical, political, and social themes that are relevant to and directly affect the primarily immigrant community. These original productions have also toured both nationally and in Mexico. Some of the original works presented by the group have also been produced in Belgium, Latvia, and Spain. The Goethe-Institut Project space served as the venue for "The FRIDA KAHLO Theater - Disrupting the Mainstream," a Spanish and English language audio-visual retrospective and exhibition that documents the history of the FRIDA KAHLO Theater and its impact on the community, highlighting the group's most significant productions. In addition to plays, the exhibit featured work generated by young artists and community members in the form of photography, animation, and theatre for youth. A panel discussion with FRIDA KAHLO Theater artists, L.A. historians, journalists, and scholars placed the theater's body of work in a cultural and historical context.

Encuentros-Encounters

Serving the Pico-Union, Westlake, and Koreatown communities, Homies Unidos presents trauma-informed and culturally competent art, education, and leadership development activities tied to social justice advocacy programs. For their project, the Goethe-Institut Project space served as a venue for "Encuentros-Encounters," offering an intergenerational and cross-cultural dialogue around pressing social issues such as immigration, mass incarceration, and climate change. At the heart of the ENCUENTROS exhibition is the series LLAMAME POR MI NOMBRE, curated by local contemporary artist Kiara Aileen Machado, and includes her own works, as well as the works created by the participants from Homies Unidos' youth programs.. Public events included artist talks, film screenings, musical performances, and educational workshops focusing on inter-communal solidarity and art production.

Together with Creating Creators, a partnership with schools in the neighborhood was initiated to visit and engage with the projects of the Neighborhood Interpretive Center.

Disruptive Representation and the Limits of Diversity

In partnership with the Thomas Mann House, a series of discussions accompanied the Neighborhood Interpretive Center. On February 26th at 11 am at the Goethe-Institut, Mohamed Amjahid, Thomas Mann House Fellow, journalist and author of the book "Der weiße Fleck" (Whitewash. A Guide to Antiracist Thinking), and Alice Hasters, journalist and author of  the bestselling book "Was weiße Menschen nicht über Rassismus hören wollen, aber wissen sollten" (What White People don't want to hear About Racism, but Should Know) discussed the topic of "Disruptive Representation and the Limits of Diversity." Diversity is seen as the solution to structural oppression. Although it is an inevitable step towards a more just society, it will not be enough to dismantle a system based on inequality. Companies and institutions often seem to settle for a superficial approach to diversity - providing a certain look - without any interest in driving real change forward. This may benefit individuals but ultimately helps to secure the status quo, which is the exclusion and exploitation of many for the advantage of a few. Representation only helps if it is disruptive to structures of oppression. How can we prevent the idea of diversity from being tokenized? And: How can we make sure that the pressure of changing these systems is not solely placed on the ones who are burdened with the responsibility of representation? 

How to: Community Engagement

On 6 December, Thomas Mann House Fellow Swenja Zaremba met with Neighborhood Interpretive Center" project partners Byron, Pauletta Pierce, the Frida Kahlo Theatre, and Homies Unidos for a collective gathering and evening of conversation focused on community engagement and to discuss "How to: Community Engagement?". How do cultural workers, artists, and cultural institutions develop strategies to engage with local communities and each other in a meaningful way? Zaremba's project in Los Angeles was dedicated to collaborative spaces on the local level and inclusiveness in public collaboration. During her time in L.A., she examined how local participatory approaches can strengthen trust in interactions between civil society and institutions to see what transformative potential for public organizations and civil society networks these approaches hold.

The Neighborhood Interpretive Center project will continue in 2023 and be a focus of the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles in the years to come.
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