LA’s neighbourhoods are celebrated by residents and visitors for their unique cultural offerings, but this diversity can prove challenging for the city in determining the core cultural assets of each area. Promise Zone Arts is an innovative answer to this problem that puts local residents in charge of identifying the most valuable cultural assets of selected neighbourhoods in Central LA.
Through a series of organised events, community members select unique ‘Cultural Treasures’ of their neighbourhood. These Cultural Treasures can be people, artists, groups, places, or activities that form the essence of local culture. These gatherings and events are an opportunity for local community organisations and arts practitioners to directly discuss their community’s cultural needs with the government.
Their ideas are used to inform and improve future cultural policies. The data collected throughout these activities, which includes community stories and traditions, are recorded, compiled, and catalogued in an online database. The cultural asset data are shared on the project website in the form of an interactive map, searchable database, and multimedia stories. The raw data will be published through the City’s Open Data portal once the data collection process is completed. Using this information, the Department of Cultural Affairs for the City of Los Angeles (DCA) aims to identify and strengthen the unique cultural assets of Central LA. The final result is a sustainable, long term cultural strategy for these neighbourhoods that is determined by the community, for the community.
The LA Promise Zone includes the neighbourhoods of Hollywood, East Hollywood, Pico Union, Los Feliz, Rampart Village, and Westlake. The area also includes cultural designations such as Little Bangladesh, Little Armenia, Thai Town, Koreatown, El Salvador Corridor and Historic Filipinotown. DCA works in partnership with the Alliance of California Traditional Arts and LA Commons to develop and implement the programme, which includes ethnographic research, organised community gatherings, and free public events in each area.
Promise Zone Arts’ digital platform intends to raise the visibility of traditionally underrepresented cultural assets, as well as providing local artists and members of the creative community with learning opportunities to sustain and strengthen their practices. As the initiative’s findings become public knowledge online, the Promise Zone Arts data team will continue to protect the privacy of community members who helped identify Cultural Treasures; a necessary step given the tense immigration politics presently taking place in the United States.
Promise Zone Arts provides a radical new understanding of cultural infrastructure that puts local residents, rather than museums or institutions, at the centre of culture-led regeneration strategies. It improves the economic vitality and civic engagement of some of LA’s most impoverished neighbourhoods. Furthermore, by listening to these community members in a direct, collaborative way, DCA is better poised to coordinate collective impact strategies with other City departments, and make improvements in public safety, economic development, and opportunities for education across LA. Promise Zone Arts’ collaborative and community-led method offers a new cultural policy paradigm in the 21st century.