LA Commons is an organization you need to know about as they have taken it upon themselves to develop and share the art and culture of Los Angeles through its neighborhoods. With programs like their brilliant Trekking LA, they marry tourism with locals, giving us all a chance to walk with a neighborhood docent to see what makes Boyle Heights so great and why Highland Park is so interesting and where in East Hollywood is beautiful. They give opportunities for exploration and community and are about sharing various regions of Los Angeles that make the city so beautiful and weird. To share more on LA Commons and Trekking LA, we had the chance to speak with the founder and executive director Karen Mack. In our discussion, we learn how empowering their work is to neighborhoods, how the city is quickly growing connected, and how you can get involved.
LA Commons and Trekking LA have been around since 2006 and intend to unite, share, and explore Los Angeles by bringing people into neighborhoods that they may not have otherwise experienced. Over the past six years, what has inspired and driven Trekking LA? How has the Angeleno and the culture of learning about Los Angles changed since the program initially started?
We have been inspired by the amazing neighborhoods that make up Los Angeles, the wonderful people that live in these places and the desire to achieve our mission which is to engage communities in artistic and cultural expression that tells their unique stories and serves as a basis for dialogue, interaction and a better understanding of Los Angeles. We are focused on empowering neighborhoods, engaging young and emerging artists in developing homegrown arts and cultural projects that communicate the stories, and connecting visitors to these projects through the Trekking LA tours. When we first started our tours, there weren’t other taking people to the neighborhoods we focus on. Since then, several options have come online–Ciclavia being the most vivid example. Each organization focuses on something a little different and the city is so large, it’s helpful to come at the problem from several angles. Our focus is on connecting people to the people that make our neighborhoods special.
For this 2012’s programming, you guys are hitting Boyle Heights, East Hollywood, Westwood, and more. What is the process of picking neighborhoods? Do neighborhoods submit themselves or, in a sense, does LA Commons/Trekking LA curate the areas each year? What does the selection represent?
Some neighborhoods we’ve been working in for many years doing annual community art projects and tours like East Hollywood, MacArthur Park and Leimert Park. We picked these initially because there was a strong cultural identity which was not being recognized and there were partners we could work with to remedy that. The last couple of years, we have been focused on scaling up Trekking LA and our first strategy was to implement Found LA–a day of free tours all over the city. With this event, we asked people to volunteer to give tours which took us beyond the neighborhoods we were working in currently. We asked some of the docents from this event to become neighborhood docents based on the quality of their tours. So, in a sense, we do a combination of curation and response to interest. Our goal is to reflect the city in all of its diversity through our tours.
In addition to the neighborhoods, there are local docents who serve as ambassadors the neighborhoods. What is the process of picking these guides? Do you find that they are the true representative of their area? Is it a combination of personality, community activity, and local pride?
We pick the guides based on their local knowledge and passion about their neighborhoods. We have specific criteria which is communicated in the description of the program, which, the one for this past training season, I have attached. And we provide about 20 hours of training. Docents represent their area based on these qualities–of course, they are not the only people representing their neighborhoods, but they bring the innate desire to showcase their neighborhoods in the best possible light.
Community and uniting LA is at the heart of Trekking LA. What are you hoping Trekking LA gives to Los Angeles proper? What are you hoping that it brings to the neighborhoods themselves, these hyper-local communities within the big city?
A better sense of itself. The great thing about our city are all these wonderful neighborhood which have their own identities and, the people that live in them. Yet, because of the way we live in Los Angeles, people don’t explore them. We feel that by giving people entre to these places, we are inviting them to get a fuller picture of their city and sense of greater connection to it in all of its diversity. We want the neighborhoods to benefit through increase recognition and ultimately, become more visited, and more economically sustainable, places.
There are a lot of events coming up that are very exciting. Which are you most excited about? Are there any events that are going to be particularly special
I am excited about all the tours because we have such a great network of neighborhood docents. Lianne Schirmer’s tours of Little Tehran have been amazing as have Malissa Strong’s of Boyle Heights and all the others. I’m especially excited about our second annual Found LA event coming up on October 21 when we will be hosting 15 to 20 free tours all around Los Angeles. It will be a chance for people to really get “hyper-local” as you put it and explore the secret heart of the city.
LA Commons and Trekking LA have some fantastic programming happening all the time, including two events this Saturday: an examination of Highland Park and Arroyo Seco culture along with an examination of the Louisiana Leimert Connection in Los Angeles. The events cost $10 and are a great way to spend your Saturday and engage with Los Angeles. For more on the organization, check out their website and–of course–catch more events here.Full Story →