South LA’s Democratic Spaces
Gang violence, rampant street crime and widespread poverty — the area known as South Central has been historically wracked with problems of urban decay and tense race relations. In an effort to rid South Central and its people of these stains, the city of Los Angeles renamed the area South Los Angeles in 2003.
Since then, community leaders have worked tirelessly to bandage the negative scars that have stricken the area and show the greater Los Angeles community that South LA is more than the narratives that define it.
One such effort is South LA Democratic Spaces, a collaborative, multimedia storytelling project from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Showcasing 15 public spaces throughout the area that encourage positive social change in the community, from food trucks and community marketplaces to public art, murals and a small aquarium for children, the exhibition reveals the community-based social movements that are changing the face of democracy in South LA.
On display through Dec. 15 at USC Annenberg, the exhibition features portrait photography and videos of these unique sites, as well as the community organizers and leaders who have contributed to their growth.
One of the featured sites is Mercado La Paloma. Located a few blocks from the University Park Campus, this local marketplace is home to dozens of small shops, restaurants and nonprofits. In an area where it is notoriously difficult for local small businesses to find investors, the Esperanza Community Housing Corp. — a nonprofit dedicated to the development of the Figueroa Corridor of South LA — formed this site to revitalize the local community, cultivate its economy and showcase residential creativity to the greater public.
Other sites include the Mafundi mural in Watts, Los Angeles Black Worker Center, Children’s Nature Institute, Community Financial Resource Center and Peace Over Violence.
A collaboration between USC Annenberg’s Metamorphosis Project and Intersections South LA and their partner community organizations, the exhibition is an effort by university faculty — including project director George Villanueva and humanities project adviser Sandra Ball-Rokeach — to engage the university in the greater South LA community. Villanueva and Ball-Rokeach look to reach beyond the academic realm and demonstrate how students can apply their research and knowledge to real-world communities.
The exhibition was funded by a Cal Humanities’ Community Stories Grant. After completing its run at USC Annenberg, it will be archived at various locations in South LA.