Muralist Francisco Garcia photographing an artistic exercise with Roosevelt High School students and faculty.

Muralist Francisco Garcia photographing an artistic exercise with Roosevelt High School students and faculty.

ArtPlace recently spoke with James Cheeks III, Communications Assistant for Cornerstone Theater Company, about the latest developments in Cornerstone’s creative placemaking efforts. Cornerstone is preparing for next month’s opening of Lunch Lady Courage, the third play in The Hunger Cycle, a six-year series of world premiere plays about hunger, justice and food equity issues.

ARTPLACE: How is Cornerstone engaging the community with creative placemaking projects?

CHEEKS: We’re bringing various artists and art mediums together to build a community around the topic of Hunger. Cornerstone is located in the heart of Los Angeles’ Arts District where murals and street art are visible on many buildings and neighborhood fixtures. The neighborhood hosts residential lofts, artist spaces, restaurants, clothing boutiques, galleries, shared workspaces and theater companies. Films are shot in the Arts District on a weekly basis and photographers flock here to take photos of their subjects against the rich artwork. This environment is an incubator for creativity and we’re excited about the unique ways that we’ve been able to use our office space as a creative space.

Last fall, Cornerstone commissioned renowned LA-based muralist Noni Olabisi to create the artwork for our play, SEED: A Weird Act of Faith, which depicts an urban community in South Los Angeles fighting for food sovereignty. Noni painted the mural on the outside of our office building and we invited the community to participate in the unveiling celebration. Noni’s mural, “Resurrect”, is a powerful and provoking statement about the struggle against hunger in urban communities and it raises awareness about the issues that Cornerstone addresses through theater. This undertaking successfully brought the community together and the public learned more about healthful food access and what Cornerstone does off the stage.

We are continually exploring unique ways of reaching the community that we serve and we currently have a great opportunity to reach a student audience through our upcoming play, Lunch Lady Courage, which is being presented on the campus of Los Angeles High School of the Arts (LAHSA). Lunch Lady Courage is an epic, youth-filled show rooted in the stories of people who plan, prepare, serve and consume school food. We’re exploring the world of “lunch ladies” and cafeteria workers, administrators, students and learning from the heroes working to make cafeterias a catalyst for healthy eating. We’re partnering with LAUSD schools, as well as charter and independent schools with specialized and forward-thinking food programs. We’re also working with nonprofits and activists advocating for positive change in school communities in L.A. and across the country.

Among our partners are students in the Urban Economy class at Theodore Roosevelt High School, who are creating original artwork on their campus. We have commissioned muralist Francisco Garcia, originally from Phoenix, Arizona, to work with the students to create a mural inspired by Lunch Lady Courage. Francisco attended Rosemead High

School and he is known for making stunning murals with positive themes. Francisco was once a troubled youth and he discovered a way to express himself and stay out of trouble through faith and art. Now, he’s teaching the students how to make their voices heard through art and keeping them involved in every step of the artistic process. The students are sharing their personal experiences with food in their community and having dialogue about the issues surrounding school food. The student-pitched ideas for the artwork are currently being sketched and it’s exciting to see their enthusiasm as they learn how to use art to impact their community.

All of us here at Cornerstone are thrilled to see this project come into fruition and we will continue to explore ways to artfully use public spaces to engage and build community around Hunger issues.

[For more information: www.CornerstoneTheater.org/LunchLadyCourage]

Muralist Francisco Garcia photographing an artistic exercise with Roosevelt High School students and faculty.

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