2014 Grants Challenge

LA Mosaic Mecca Project: An Urban Mosaic Intervention on Skid Row

Artists and Arts Orgs provide skills training to recently homeless persons to provide labor for large-scale mosaic art installation


Please describe yourself.

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

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Artists and Arts Orgs provide skills training to recently homeless persons to provide labor for large-scale mosaic art installation

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

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

All visitors of Mosaic Mecca public art installation

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Picture a culturally-diverse workforce engaged with artists and supported by enthusiastic volunteers. The impassioned intention of this collective is to bring into realty a powerful work of mosaic art that transforms the urban jungle of Skid Row to become a go-to destination among all lovers of art. Mosaic is the perfect art form for this wide berth of participation – it is user-friendly (anyone can learn), it upcycles waste glass (plentiful supply), it is most powerful when large and, when large, it requires a large number of persons to provide labor. The LA Mosaic Mecca Project, however, is not art for beauty's sake. This art has a powerful mechanism -- art training to members of Skid Row community most in need of such benefit.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

To implement the Project, Piece by Piece will direct its resources and networks of support toward the planning and design for a major mosaic installation in Skid Row. Our partner, the Trust, enjoys deep connections in the downtown community and will assist our effort to identify an appropriate location for the LA Mosaic Mecca installation. Our training programs will focus on skill sets and special topics that prepare participants to serve as Artisans for Mosaic design, fabrication and installation. We will engage more than 60 Visiting Artists, including both from among the roster of Mosaic, Design and Public Art professionals who have previously served Piece by Piece and outreach to new artists supplying knowledge, skill and talent to the project. We will form new partnerships, including with the Digital Mural Lab of UCLA SPARC, a unique research and teaching facility that brings state of the art computer technology to the production of community-based art. We will engage our Social Media Manager toward the end of connecting Los Angeles, city-wide, to our Mosaic Mecca ambitions. We will gain the support of representatives of the City, and of the local business community that is rapidly expanding within downtown neighborhoods in and surrounding the Skid Row area, including both the Spring Street Arts Corridor and the Arts District. To provide full public access to the Mosaic Mecca activity, we will open a storefront withing Arts District Flea, and take part in events organized through Grand Performances, Renegade Craft Fair and KCRW Summer Nights, among others. Our outreach will include extensive search for volunteers to assist the Mosaic Mecca Project at every level – from planning and design to prep and installations.

Steps toward completing the LA Mosaic Mecca project are in keeping with the daily operations of Piece by Piece. Operations include learning workshops for participants at every level, training labs for participants advancing toward Artisan achievement, special topics instruction from Visiting Artists in Piece by Piece studio, and professional development for Piece by Piece Artist Instructors charged with design and fabrication challenges. Our Program Director and Instructional staff will engage in advanced technology training to support their role in leading planning and design of a public art mosaic of scale that is suited to the chosen site.

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

The idea of transformative art is not new: The Urban Mosaic Intervention conducted in Chile by Isadora Paz Lopez was manifested for a town bisected by concrete rails. Photos at www.mosaicartnow are not easily forgotten. In Chile the need was for transforming an ugly landscape. In Los Angeles the need is toward recognizing the resource of artists for addressing urban problems within systems of education, social service, workforce development, government and urban planning.

The project will put artists to work. It has been established through research that artists can be a creative engine for a thriving society, yet opportunities for engagement remains limited. The project offers work for artists that connects them with a broader community and brings recognition to their contributions as change-makers. The visibility of the project in promoting the role of artists as not only creators but also problem-solvers, collaborators, community-builders, teachers, leaders and agents for change can guide the future of LA in recognizing the role of artists as a critical to education, urban development, and social needs at every level. In 2050, LA can be the best place for artists to work and to live and to be recognized for how their contributions impact the community at every level.

The proposed mosaic intervention will manifest as an outcome of training extended to residents of Skid Row who are vulnerable to homelessness. These participants, paired and mentored by a large corp of professional artists, will perform the labor as a culminating thesis for their own advancement in creative learning and skill. Following a training that includes both soft skills (working in teams, following instruction, complying with rules) and hard skills (design, craft and mosaic fabrication technique), participants succeed in not only directly producing a lasting work of art that brings beauty to their immediate surrounding, but also job experience that strongly lends to their potential for future employment. Skid Row Residents often share the characteristic of poor education, limited opportunity and other conditions stemming from poverty. The potential for creating opportunity through artmaking among this population helps to reduce the divide that has made homelessness a realty in our city. Art as a vehicle to individual security and success will make LA a better place to create in 2050, and a better place for everyone to live.

Whom will your project benefit?

More than 60 artists will benefit through their role as change-agents, more than doubling the roster of artists currently with Piece by Piece. More than 100 Skid Row Residents will benefit through arts learning, skills training and transitional employment. Some among these will springboard toward their own career as artists. Others will attain permanent employment as a result of the job experience impact on their resume. 300 community volunteers will gain connection with artists and with their own creativity and deepen their commitment to ending homelessness and making LA a better place for all of its residents. Those who live, work or frequent the site chosen for the LA Mosaic Mecca will benefit from the beautification. The many groups currently working to develop economy and culture in districts that comprise the city’s core will benefit from enhanced connectivity stemming from the project’s implementation and broad outreach for inputs and support.

The Project will transition Piece by Piece to a next level, solidifying its practices and metrics toward becoming a robust arts establishment. As a social enterprise centered on arts-training and transitional employment that lends to career development both within the arts and in other industries, the advancement of the organization brings to Los Angeles a new model for engaging art to meet workforce development needs and achieve social ends.

The project re-thinks the purposes of a skills training program. It is heavily inspired by expansive research that has proven that art learning can advance skill, knowledge, problem-solving and critical thinking at a rate that academic learning does not. Arts learning speaks to multiple modes: practicing concrete experience and active experimentation as well as reflection and conceptualization. Art offers learning that is accessible to people of all backgrounds, and ethnicities, and is a learning that is not impaired by language barriers. Making art central to workforce development offers participants, many with little education and limited employment experience, the opportunity to grow soft skills -- such as following instruction, complying with rules, and working in teams – while simultaneously developing hard skills in mosaic design, technique and fabrication. The innovation is with applying arts learning to workforce development practice. The model offers transitional employment as well as skills training for income earned as trained Artisan.

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

This strategic partnership with Skid Row Housing Trust brings to Piece by Piece the resource of direct collaboration with personnel working within each of the Trust’s 24 buildings in Skid Row, the resource of administrative staffing, and a permanent studio space for located in the Trust’s Star Apartment Complex.

Access to quality artists and state-of-the-art design and fabrication resources allows Piece by Piece team to “go big” in their vision for creating public art. The project will be formed from a spirit of city-wide collaboration and will cultivate new strategic partnerships with key Los Angeles art resources such as the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice and the Self Help Graphics & Art in East Los Angeles. Both organizations offer deep knowledge and extensive resources that lend to creative transformation in Los Angeles urban environments.

Our social enterprise partners include corporations, small businesses, and other agencies who support our Job Readiness Program through quantity order of mosaic pieces, for large-scale project commissions, as well as by carrying our product line in retail environments. These partners include Universal Studios, Irvine College, CRA/LA among many others.

Other partners will include a wide range of volunteers, including students, working professionals, retirees, and corporate groups as well as engagement with other Skid Row agencies that share our objectives toward addressing needs among vulnerable populations. A partnership in place with the Downtown Women’s Center engages the Center’s Job Developer in assisting human resources role in recruiting Skid Row candidates for permanent job placement within the Piece by Piece social-enterprise as studio and sales associates.

Factors critical to success: (1) Partnership with SRHT -- brings to bear an extensive network of private and public resources and connections that make the project possible, (2) Artist Involvement -- Through funding support from the NEA and others, Piece by Piece engages a roster of more than 25 professional artists, and will expand this roster significantly; (3) Arts-Network -- The Project will form meaningful partnership with individual artists, and also arts organizations with the talent and resources for lending support toward successful planning, design and coordination of a large Public Art installation.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CREATE metrics?

Employment in creative industries

Arts establishments per capita

Gini coefficient

Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)

Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

Arts-Based activity that generates jobs & wealth for a diverse workforce

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

The Project enhances the level of employment in creative industry by tapping the professional involvements of creative artists in the fields of design, visual art, public art, and art installations. Further, the Project establishes a new creative industry by expanding the Piece by Piece social enterprise infrastructure to include many more workshops and training sites. Exposure to Piece by Piece brought through the project is anticipated to expand its networks and sustainable resources such that expansion brought through the project will institutionalize within the organization for the years that follow. Piece by Piece currently engages 22 artists for programming; we anticipate the need to double this roster in 2015 in the context of the LA Mosaic Mecca Project and continue that trajectory of growth in service to workshop/training sites implemented in 2015 that remain in place for years to follow.

The core Artisan team trained by Piece by Piece over the years it served South Los Angeles is comprised largely of Latino members, many with limited English skill. The accomplishment of Piece by Piece in providing training and opportunity to this disenfranchised and ethnically diverse group is a testament to the leverage of art for building impactful community that fosters readiness for career advancement. The LA Mosaic Mecca project holds the potential of impacting, among Los Angelenos, the gini coefficient suggesting inequality of income and wealth evidenced among multi-cultural populations that face barriers to education and employment opportunity effecting their capacity to generate wealth, stability and self-sufficiency in their lives.

The project additionally holds the promise of contributing to the cultural mecca that is Los Angeles. It builds upon the many world-class art and performance spaces that reside in the north sections of the city center and extends this reach South. Coupled with the vibrant art activity currently taking place along the Art-Walk corridor and in the Arts District east of Alameda, the LA Mosaic Mecca Project, when implemented in Skid Row, improves the inclusivity of the Skid Row area in the ongoing Creative Renaissance that has been nourished in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

1. Number of new arts-partnerships formed as result of the Project …. As measured by formation of MOU’s with Arts Orgs, contractual agreements with art and design professionals, and other documents substantiating collaboration

2. Number of Recently-Homeless Individuals attaining Training and Transitional Employment … As measured by participant tracking metrics

3. Meaningful Public Art Installation … as Measured by completion of LA Mosaic Mecca Artwork and community response to the work collected through participant surveys and on-line survey outreach

4. Meaningful Artist Engagement … as tracked through tracking of compensations conveyed to Artists partnering on the project, Artist Inputs gained through interview & survey assessments, level of Press directed to Artist Engagement in the project, and enhancements to Artist resumes and career path cultivated by the project

5. Meaningful Workforce Development …. As assessed through tracking of compensations conveyed to Skid Row participants, participant success in Transitional Employment role, and successful transition of participants to permanent employment cultivated through work experience on the project.

In addition to the above metrics, the Project will assess its achievements in terms of the personal success of Skid Row Residents who retain housing and/or attain employment following their participation in the Project. This objective will be assessed via measures and tools utilized by Case Management staffing in tracking success among individual Residents of Trust buildings. This metric is of tremendous value in broadening perspectives and dialogue as to best practices in fostering an end to homelessness. We view the practice of Arts-based Learning and Training as a critical new element within this field of research. To this end, we wish also to measure and assess the number of art-community connections improved as result of the Project through tally of Arts Organizations newly-connected in support of the Project, and follow-up interview with such organizations pointed at creating lasting and meaningful engagements that focus on solutions to the thus-far intractable problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. We believe that connections within the rich and diverse cultural resources throughout the city can better serve solutions to this problem.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Piece by Piece operates a social enterprise model that deploys professional artists to provide skills training to economically disenfranchised and vulnerable persons who take part in transitional employment and training that prepares them for permanent job placement. Trainees achieving Artisan status additionally earn income through engagement in mosaic art projects commissioned to Piece by Piece. Lessons informing our solution include

1 – Persons facing challenges to financial stability and productive participation in society stemming from poverty flourish when given tools and opportunity through Arts Learning

2 – Artists, when tasked with the challenge of addressing the intractable problem of homelessness and economic inequity bring to bear enormous resources for empowering disenfranchised populations and fostering meaningful community engagement.

For over seven years Piece by Piece has built and tested its model for engaging artists to train underserved community members to earn income through mosaic artmaking activity. In recent months, the program engaged 22 artists to train 60 Participants who in turn completed a number of outstanding projects including a city-commissioned public art mosaic. An array of projects are highlighted on the Piece by Piece website.

To grow its program Piece by Piece has partnered with Skid Row Housing Trust, a well-respected provider of supportive housing in Skid Row. The Trust operates to provide services within its 24 apartment buildings housing persons vulnerable to homelessness. A Partnership Agreement supports Piece by Piece substantially through both the administrative infrastructure it makes available and through collaboration in Piece by Piece activities among direct service staff deployed in buildings owned and operated by the Trust. The partnership additionally provides tangible resources such as workshop space and logistical support. Importantly, the extensive program staffing with Trust buildings, including case managers, counselors, health professionals and advocates supporting both the recently incarcerated and veterans significantly reduce challenges in providing effective arts learning experiences and employment opportunity.

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

The high level of artistic quality that has emerged among Piece by Piece Artisans is a testament to the artists that facilitate workshops. Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Dawn Mendelson, our Instructional Staff and Roster of Visiting Artists reflect a broad-based talent that is widely recognized within the arts community, as demonstrated by Piece by Piece support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Commission, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Cultural Affairs Department of Los Angeles. Commissions designed, fabricated and installed by Piece by Piece team of artists and trained-Artisans include a Public Art project for the city of Hollywood, a mural for Irvine College, wall art for Universal Studios, among others. This portfolio of work can be viewed on the Piece by Piece web. Piece by Piece operations are managed by Lisa Marsh, who comes to the organization with more than 30 years of experience developing programs in both arts education and in services to homeless populations. She provides direction to the effort to build out Piece by Piece as a social enterprise model, leveraging resources from within Skid Row Housing Trust networks and beyond to bring the model in service of Skid Row residents. Piece by Piece Board of Directors include professionals from multiple fields and is chaired by Mike Alvidrez, the Executive Director of the Trust. Mr. Alvidrez is widely recognized for his leadership in addressing the need among homeless populations of Los Angeles for supportive housing. He brings to Piece by Piece a vision for harnessing the power of art to transform the urban setting and the desire to deploy the Piece by Piece model among those who are most in need of the learning opportunities that Piece by Piece provides. At the heart of this leadership is Piece by Piece founder, Sophie Alpert. Sophie has placed enormous energy and talent toward forming and incubating the Piece by Piece model, harnessing a wide range of resources and form deep connections with supporters that have together nurtured the program to a level of success that has prepared it for broad implementation in Skid Row. Her commitment to the program and guidance in directing its future continue to add tremendous value to Piece by Piece and its development as a social enterprise. Together, this leadership team and all of the resources it brings to bear on implementing the LA Mosaic Mecca project assures achievement of goals.

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

Serving vulnerable populations.

We recognize that challenges are inherent to any project that centers on the participation of at-risk and vulnerable populations. The Mosaic Mecca project centers on arts-learning activity directed to residents of housing aimed at stabilizing vulnerable individuals, including recently-homeless veterans, homeless persons who have been recently-incarcerated and others who face challenges stemming from substance addiction, mental illness, physical disability and similar characteristics observed among those who live well below poverty level. The strategy to assure success includes close collaboration with Trust counselors, case managers and other program staff dedicated to supporting the success of Residents in retaining stable housing, improving wellness and enhancing self-sufficiency. Importantly, the extensive program staffing with Trust buildings, including case managers, counselors, health professionals and advocates supporting both the recently incarcerated and veterans significantly reduce challenges in providing effective arts learning experiences and employment opportunity.

Public Art Coordination.

Creating a major public art mosaic manifested through broad community participation (artists, volunteers, groups) in partnering with our trained Artisans (and Artisans in training) will require broad partnership with other Arts organizations and resources centered on design and creation of public art as well as service organizations within Skid Row. Our leadership team is well positioned to solicit support from every sector, and will foster a spirit of collaboration as a strategy for successful completion of the project.

What resources does your project need?

Network/relationship support

Volunteers/staff (human capital)

Publicity/awareness (social capital)

Community outreach