The Hunger CycleLos Angeles, CA
ArtPlace recently spoke with Maria Guerra, Development Assistant for Cornerstone Theater Company, about Cornerstone’s ArtPlace grant period. Cornerstone is now preparing for this fall’s production of Love on San Pedro, a collaboration with the Skid Row community.
ARTPLACE: Now that you are coming to the end of your ArtPlace grant periods take a moment to think over the past year. What advice would you give to the new grantees? How would you encourage new grantees to leverage their ArtPlace grants for maximum effect?
GUERRA: In looking back at the past year, we’re proud to have challenged ourselves to create programming that is innovative for our company. We stretched ourselves in ways that really put us on our mettle.
We’re a non-profit theater company that collaborates with underserved communities to make theater of the highest quality. We’re artists attuned to social issues and we work hard to impact society through our art making. Our current project is the Hunger Cycle, a series of 9 world premiere plays spread over six years that investigate issues of food access and equity.
Last fall, we produced SEED: A Weird Act of Faith, written by Sigrid Gilmer and directed by Shishir Kurup and Lunch Lady Courage, written by Peter Howard and directed by Chris Anthony.
In an effort to promote our work and create higher demand for artistic activity, we developed programming that would complement our productions and advance the social issues of food access and equity. We hosted kitchen and garden workshops and set up produce stands at our weekend shows, which proved to be challenging yet rewarding.
We’re not cooks or gardeners, nor experts in the field of food. Instead, we partnered with experts to enrich our artistic exploration. We had the support of organizations such as Community Services Unlimited, a community-based health and food justice organization in South LA.
While we were successful in setting up a produce stand for Seed: A Weird Act of Faith, it was difficult to jump through bureaucratic hoops for our second play, Lunch Lady Courage, a collaboration with the Los Angeles High Schools of the Arts We chose to morph the ArtPlace programming into something closer to our know-how: special Wednesday performances that reached out to youth, our primary community for the play.
We developed “Street Teams” to reach out to students across LA, and provide them with participatory art making opportunities. Coordinated by an artist/educator, “Street Teams” were groups of enthusiastic students in various LAUSD High Schools who helped spread the word about the production and engaged in art projects that were displayed at the Lunch Lady Courage performances. A series of 38 artistic workshops were led by three lead artists: a filmmaker, a visual artist, and playwright/graphic designer The students were thrilled to participate and have their voices be heard through these exhibits.
Future grantees will run into challenges and those can be unique learning opportunities. When hosting the produce stand during the peformances of SEED, we learned what worked and what didn’t by trial and error. We would recommend that future grantees have a well-developed Plan B and remain flexible to the needs of the community they serve.
We also learned the importance of basing our conclusions about community needs on facts rather than assumptions. We assumed what the interests of our community were based on geography but when we surveyed them, we found that they were interested in different topics for our gardening workshops. The advice to other grantees would be to have a systematic way of measuring need, especially when it comes to developing programming that is beyond your expertise.
All in all, we feel successful: we met wonderful community partners, collaborated with open and talented communities, and learned some very valuable lessons. ArtPlace allowed us to grow in many ways and we are very grateful for the support.