Gesturing towards the re-purposed pay phone prototype, KAOS Network founder Ben Caldwell said he looked at the Leimert Phone Company project as a way to exact “a handshake between 20th century objects and 21st century objects.”
Just because we were living in an era of rapid change, he continued, there was no need to throw the babies out with the bathwater or cut all ties to what came before.
It was an apt metaphor for where Leimert Park finds itself at this moment.
The area has undergone significant changes in recent years, some of which have been hastened by the speculation (and, finally, confirmation) that the area would host a train station along the new Crenshaw Line.
While the station will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, many fear that gentrification, rising rents, and developers will push out the very people and culture the station was intended to showcase. You can already find a number of empty storefronts around the plaza in buildings that were recently purchased by developers and important cultural and artistic hubs like The World Stage are struggling to scrape together funds and support so they can stay where they are.
All of which is what makes the Leimert Phone Company project — a unique collaboration between USC, the KAOS Network, and artists from Leimert Park — so timely.
When I first connected Caldwell with Professor François Bar of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab at a get-to-know-you meeting at USC last year, it was in the hopes of setting up a collaborative spoken word bike- or walking-tour-cum-mapping project of Leimert Park. I knew that Caldwell, an artist and filmmaker with a love for history and a unique ability to bridge past and present, had long been interested in recording the stories of the area. Meanwhile, Bar and his team had only recently concluded a community-based assets-mapping project in Watts. While the final output — a colorful map — hadn’t necessarily led people to see their neighborhood in a new light, as the team had hoped, I found the community-specific map to be an incredibly useful tool for starting conversations about people’s longer-term aspirations for their communities or inviting them to participate in community bike rides.
I figured that, together, Caldwell and Bar might be able to create something along the lines of a digital map populated with artists’ interpretations or recollections of particular locations and tours that could be built around site-based performances. Such a project, I hoped, would help capture the essential culture and history of the place in the voices of those who lived it, while giving outsiders the context they needed to explore and appreciate the neighborhood.
Clearly, I wasn’t thinking big enough. Read more…