2014 Grants Challenge

Beautify LA!

Beautify Earth will create 50 murals to help empower, uplift and connect residents, communities and businesses in South LA and beyond.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Beautify Earth will create 50 murals to help empower, uplift and connect residents, communities and businesses in South LA and beyond.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

South LA

Metropolitan Los Angeles

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Beautify Earth’s vision is to create 50 murals in one year throughout South Los Angeles, initially targeting 3 neighborhoods: Crenshaw, Central Avenue/84th Street and La Brea/Slauson. One potential project includes a space large enough to accommodate several murals along with art structures and can be used to host community events, workshops, classes and even an outdoor café or farmer’s market.

We have already created four murals in South Los Angeles. These murals were painted on walls in the Crenshaw district that were being tagged nightly. Since the murals have been installed, these walls have gone untouched—some for a full year. The community is proud, and building owners are ecstatic, calling them life changing for their businesses.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

All Beautify projects begin with location scouting, followed by outreach to building or wall owners. Once the owner is identified and approves the project, Beautify’s volunteer artists develop an artistic concept and rendering.

Community building is an integral component of our process. Project leaders identify neighborhood councils, schools and local nonprofits in order to build awareness and engage local volunteers. Next, a crew of volunteers is assembled to execute the project. They create a work plan and approach vendors for donations/discounts on supplies.

Murals form the focal point to connect communities. Beautify also offers free dance and arts education programs to local communities in tandem with mural creation. Other activities will be determined in partnership with the local community and may include:

• Greening, gardening and landscaping

• Cultural events

• Civic engagement activities

• Street gatherings

• Street clean-up

In recognition that creating great streets transforms neighborhoods and businesses, Mayor Garcetti established a Great Streets initiative to attract pedestrians and new businesses to revitalize streets that need help. Two of the 15 initial thoroughfares slated for improvements are in South Los Angeles (one on Crenshaw and one on Central Avenue). As part of our efforts in the next 12 months, we will be meeting with the Great Streets team to discuss incorporating Beautify’s mural painting and community development work into the Great Streets program. We will also meet with the new General Manager for Cultural Affairs about bringing our program to more neighborhoods.

Because Beautify’s program has been developed to identify and mentor neighborhood champions and inexpensively help them implement their vision for their community, Beautify can have a significant impact throughout the region within a very short timeframe. Adding two part-time staff members will allow us to accomplish the goals set out for this project and lay a firm foundation for Beautify’s future growth.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

Beautify’s murals serve as vehicles of business improvement and community pride and inspire a connection to one’s neighborhood, one’s history and oneself. Murals give residents, business owners and passersby ways to identify neighborhoods, and serve as community gathering places. The creation and placement of murals has an immediate effect on the daily lives of Los Angeles residents and businesses. The process of the community coming together to create and support each mural starts building connections between neighbors even before the mural is created.

The broken windows theory states that “maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.” Neglect creates a sense of hopelessness and despair. Conversely, “perceived beauty or aesthetic character of a location has a positive and significant effect on perceived community satisfaction. It is one of the most significant factors alongside economic security, good schools, and the perceived capacity for social interaction.” (Florida, Mellander and Stolarick, 2009). Aesthetic negligence is also correlated with high crime and poverty. Whether a symptom of depressed economic times, insufficient economic development or natural disaster, lack of public attention and investment leaves its stain on local residents and businesses.

As neglect is viral, so is beautification. Murals empower residents and communities, and connect them with one another. Businesses that have participated in other Beautify Earth projects have reported up to a 50% increase in revenue in less than a year’s time as a result of our contribution to their otherwise blank and blighted walls. Countless residents and patrons have commented about their delight in seeing otherwise unsightly areas virtually transformed as a result of our work.

Our project will infuse South Los Angeles with the same benefits. By 2050, we believe that our impact will be citywide. We will have brought art and beauty to every neglected wall and neighborhood, inspiring others to showcase their creativity and making LA one of the most inspiring cities in the world – a city that values the voice of each individual, and connects them to one another through meaningful artistic and civic engagement activities. Often forgotten, South Los Angeles will have moved past its blighted history and begin a transformation worthy of its tremendous potential.

Whom will your project benefit?

This project will directly benefit and impact local residents, business owners and artists in South Los Angeles. While the immediate effects are improved community pride and a sense of inspiration and transformation, Beautify’s efforts develop the local economy by improving local business revenue, attracting new investment and generating interest for tourists and visitors. This in turn leads to job creation across multiple industries and sectors. We will be helped in these efforts by our collaborators, which include two non-profits that focus on economic development and a local marketing firm that hosts an internet talk show with 300,000 monthly viewers.

According to Americans for the Arts, “communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefits of jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that positions those communities to compete in our 21st-century creative economy.” In other words, “Investments in public art are not just for cultural or aesthetic purposes; they also can have a positive bottom-line economic impact, with material financial benefits to their owners. Good art is good business.” (Rosenfeld, 2012).

Beautification also impacts the individual. Public art projects inspire; they open minds and hearts. The mural process is both a demonstration of support and a call to action. Murals can empower youth to use their creativity to join in a sense of ownership and pride instead of following an impulse for destruction or isolation. Murals connect individuals to their neighborhoods and serve as an example that anyone can become engaged, take responsible action and lend to the richness of their own community.

Individuals who have the privilege of living and working in beautiful settings feel valued. And when people feel valued, they recognize the importance of their own voice and ability to create change in their communities. Enhancing and beautifying neighborhoods therefore paves the way for greater civic participation, including neighborhood council representation, elected official outreach and voter turnout.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Our work is collaborative in nature. We bring together artists, community members, businesses, employees, property owners, government officials, their staff and other government workers, and philanthropic sources to volunteer time and/or donate goods, services or funds for mural painting, street fairs, arts education, outreach and other community-building activities that increase connections between people of varied races, backgrounds, interests, and socioeconomic groups.

Home Depot and Sherwin William are currently collaborators providing supplies and volunteers. Project leaders live and/or work in the area and are deeply connected to their community. The project leader begins by connecting with local organizations and businesses to find walls and volunteers.

In just a short time, we have interest in collaborating from: West Angeles Community Development Corporation (connected with West Angeles Church, which is a cornerstone of the Crenshaw community and involved in economic development activities in the area); George Crenshaw Development Corp. (facilitating transit-oriented development); Dan Rosenfeld, who has worked extensively in South LA, is former deputy to Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and President of George Crenshaw Development Corp.; and Starlett Quarles of urban X marketing (branding, urban marketing, and community PR services), who hosts an Internet talk show with 300,000 viewers and was honored as one of Los Angeles’ Most Influential African American Movers and Shakers by the LA Wave Newspaper.

We have also had conversations with area neighborhood council presidents who are excited to work with us and will include us on agendas to obtain official support in the near future. We have also reached out to the Greater LA African-American Chamber and the LA Latino Chamber.

Other potential collaborators that we have reached out to but not confirmed:

Knox Presbyterian Church (volunteers);

St. James Armenian Apostolic Church (volunteers);

Park Mesa Heights Community Council (volunteers, engaging the community, outreach); Crenshaw High School (volunteers);

Southeast Neighborhood Council (volunteers, engaging the community, outreach);

CANNDU (Neighborhood Council) (volunteers, engaging the community, outreach);

Fremont High School (volunteers); and

Charles Drew Middle School (volunteers).

When funding is secured all collaborators will be confirmed.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CONNECT metrics?

Rates of volunteerism

Voting rates by race

Attendance at cultural events

Number of public transit riders

Participation in neighborhood councils

Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)

Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric)

Transit-accessible housing and employment (the share of housing units and percentage of jobs that are located within a half-mile of transit) (Dream Metric)

Total number of social media friends (Dream Metric)

Attendance at public/open street gatherings (Dream Metric)

Residential segregation (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Through outreach, painting murals and providing food and fun, we will engage community members who traditionally do not volunteer. As we create projects throughout the region, we will greatly increase rates of volunteerism. Community members will experience the benefits of volunteering, which will encourage them to volunteer for other efforts. Involving the community, engaging the neighborhood councils as collaborators and involving other local community organizations will show people how they can make a difference in their community.

It has been shown that when neighborhood residents from disenfranchised communities experience that they can make a difference in their neighborhood and are introduced to their Councilmember and other elected officials, they become engaged in the civic process. They have a greater propensity to vote, get involved with their local neighborhood council, express their needs and hold their elected representatives accountable.

Through community outreach, we will also grow our social media presence and social media friends for LA2050. As part of the mural painting process, we host inspiring and educational events, increasing attendance at cultural events and street gatherings. Since one of the targeted project areas will welcome the new Crenshaw Metro line, by beautifying the area, we will increase ridership, improve residential segregation and create an attractive environment for transit-accessible housing and employment. By beautifying and revitalizing the area, people of all backgrounds will feel safe walking, living and working in the neighborhood, rendering it more desirable for economic development efforts.

Our projects have raised revenues for the establishments painted, inspired other businesses and building owners to beautify their buildings on their own, attracted new businesses and increased tax revenue. Our projects have also allowed artists to showcase their work and improved neighborhood pride, leading to increased spending at local businesses from neighborhood residents, people driving through, and visitors coming to see the murals. Ultimately, the influx of new businesses attracted to the area, as well as the upsurge in demand to lease properties, will increase local property values.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Beautify Earth proposes a partnership with urban planning students from local universities, including Antioch University Los Angeles’s graduate program in Urban Planning, to design an assessment tool that measures the impact of the murals on the surrounding community through interaction with passersby and local residents. Evaluation will be conducted through quantitative (surveys and observation) and qualitative (interviews) methods to determine the success of the murals in increasing community engagement, connectedness and pride.

Community engagement and connectedness will be measured through time sampling at the mural sites: how many people stop to read informational signs about the project, take photographs, and stop to admire the art, as well as an evaluation of whether walking and biking increases. In addition, a before-and-after survey will gather statistics from residents about how often they vote, volunteer and participate in civic activities, as well as their perception of their neighborhood: how they rate it as a good place to live, to raise children, to shop, to work and to interact with their larger community. We will design an evaluation tool which addresses all the LA2050 metrics that we have indicated we will impact.

In addition, Beautify will continue our studies of mural impact on local businesses through interviews with business owners. Our previous experience shows that business traffic and revenues typically increase 20%–50%.

Beautify will generate a report of the results to assess program strengths and areas for improvement. We intend our program to be a model for other communities and cities, and will ensure that we have the appropriate metrics to illustrate the success of our model.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

There is a great deal of research that highlights the positive impact of the arts on community well-being. Two studies in particular explain the positive correlation between beautifying the urban environment and (1) the health and well-being of its inhabitants and (2) their attachment to the community, both of which lead directly to significant economic growth.

1. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, “Deteriorating physical features of urban environments can negatively influence public health. Dilapidated environments and urban blight tend to promote alienation and can be associated with social disorder, vandalism, crime, drug abuse, traffic violations, and littering, which in turn affects health and well-being.” Studies consistently show that enhancing the urban environment increases community pride. Beautify’s strategy of accomplishing that feat through utilizing volunteers to create beautiful murals is a low-cost method with far-reaching returns.

2. The Knight Foundation commissioned a 3-year Gallup study of 26 U.S. cities that found that peoples’ love and passion for their community may be a leading indicator for economic growth. The study further determined that the three “community qualities” of social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important than peoples’ perceptions of the economy, jobs, leadership, safety or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community. The 26 cities in the survey with the highest levels of resident love and passion for their community (resident attachment), also had the highest rates of GDP growth over time. The study found that “when a community’s residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money, they’re more productive, and tend to be more entrepreneurial.”

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Beautify Earth will use a project timeline replete with benchmarks, milestones, and deliverables for its employees, volunteers, and stakeholders that will keep the project on track and ensure its deadlines are met. Having created 40 murals in the past year, we have already established policies and procedures for optimum outcomes, and we have refined and documented the many steps necessary to accomplish our goals.

Our talented team of volunteers includes professional project managers who have the experience of growing and operating multimillion-dollar projects. We understand the importance of economic viability and performance and keep this at the forefront of our strategy for completing the work successfully and on time. We are committed to using our combined skills, talents, and assets to put grants and donations to immediate use and to document our far-reaching impact.

Los Angeles was once known as the mural capital of the world and our vision of economic revitalization and community empowerment will help restore that reputation, making all of our neighborhoods destination spots that will appeal to tourists, residents and future residents. The LA2050 grant will help us to have a significant impact on South Los Angeles, creating a strong foundation from which to grow and reach many more communities throughout Los Angeles County.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Two major challenges Beautify faces are: 1) combatting community despair; and 2) enlisting the participation of all stakeholders.

Overcoming community despair in economically disadvantaged areas is a challenge Beautify Earth has already successfully met in previous projects. Building and business owners may believe that beautifying a frequently tagged wall is futile, that a mural project may require too much work on their part, or that the red tape of city regulations is too difficult to conquer. Our outreach team provides inspiration and support to skittish residents and business owners. We show them before and after photos of thriving murals; we provide video documentation of satisfied business owners; we supply statistics demonstrating improved business traffic and commerce. We also explain how we use our knowledge of the permitting process and our civic connections to assist owners in clearing city hurdles. We present evidence that beautiful murals discourage tagging, increase neighborhood walkability, and encourage young people to take pride in their surroundings and feel hope for their futures. Through engaging building owners in the selection of the mural design and emphasizing the invaluable investment they will be making in their own business and their community at no cost to them, we have a high success rate of securing land/building owner buy-in. In addition, by involving the community we provide business owners with volunteer resources to help maintain the mural and the surrounding area.

Enlisting the participation of all stakeholders in beautification projects is a daunting task, but Beautify Earth has proven its community-building skill in the 40 mural projects we completed this past year. We have enlisted neighborhood councils, elected officials, community painting volunteers, and dedicated local artists. As word spreads in each neighborhood, excitement grows exponentially. This year we plan to increase our outreach through neighborhood religious institutions, youth centers, and employment services. We will distribute colorful postcards in the community about our projects, meet with community leaders, and provide speakers for churches and other community gathering places. Our method works because residents are hungry for tangible positive change and their leaders want to create and be associated with that new vision. The change is immediate and requires little to no financial investment from the community, yet the results are far-reaching