Art and Urban Sustainability

Keisa Davis of Community Build


Keisa Davis, Member of the City of LA Advocacy Team and Administrative & Scholarship Manager for Community Build, guest blogs about art-based interventions, social services and urban sustainability.



Sometimes I ask myself, how did an art educator come to work with a social service and economic development agency? Well, it’s complicated but in short it was a desire to serve youth and build communities in dynamic ways.

Although my colleagues who are art administrators may not initially make the connection, or my co-workers who are case managers, I find that both fields are critical to community revitalization.

Low-income communities in South Los Angeles and across the nation are in a crisis; a struggle that precedes our current recession. Our public education system in Los Angeles County is abominable. Poor literacy rates, drop out and graduation rates with equally under-funded alternative and special education programs mirror the equity differential in education. Southern California has the highest foster youth population in the nation who also suffer high risk of homelessness. The state prison budget is increasingly competing with a deficit public education budget, which correlates to alarming rates of young men of color not entering and graduation from college.

Neighborhood blight demonstrates regional disinvestment while gang and drug networks illustrate misguided entrepreneurial enterprises. It is clear that all hands must be on deck to develop interventions that effectively engage youth, families and communities toward economic self-sufficiency.

Our future workforce needs to be properly educated, trained and stimulated to develop and lead healthy productive lives. The way I see it, the arts have an “app” for that…

Art and cultural programming foster transformative spaces for learning that can assist in meeting outcomes such as graduation, academic and college readiness, drop out prevention, re-entry transition and health and wellness goals. Also significant, is the usage of art intervention projects to develop competent cultural and media producers who can use newfound tools to explore and advocate campaigns addressing social environmental issues that undergird the attainment of realized sustainability.

Art based interventions are multidisciplinary, multifaceted and a viable approach to address complex social justice dynamics. Neighborhood beautification projects are a powerful vehicle for community building and visual revitalization while project-based creativity programs revitalize imaginations, self-awareness and foster competitive skill sets. These interventions can play an integral role in supplementing case management and supportive services which help to build self-sustaining individuals, families and communities.

There are a number of local community based nonprofit organizations pioneering program models that successfully blends arts, social services and community building objectives. These organizations are working towards the future of our society and our world in unconventional ways. I applaud them and their extraordinary mission. Here are a few to check out and support:

A Place Called Home
Community Build (my organization)
Create Now!
Inside Out Community Arts
LA Commons
Mar Vista Family Center
Message Media Ed
Reach LA
The Wooden Floor
Theatre of Hearts
The HeArt Project

After all, ten years from now I don’t want to run into a past high school student as a TSA agent in the airport security line (which has happened). Our youth are capable and deserve so much more. Instead my motivation is to run into a former student as an involved parent, successful professional or active community resident that just happens to rave about a recent performance or exhibit they attended.

Photo: Keisa Davis, provided by the author.

Imagination is more important than knowledge

Einstein said that, and it especially rings true in a time when knowledge is transitory because everything is in a state of transition.  I agree with you, Kesia, that it's our responsibility - our gift to pass along - to turn young people on to the power of their own creativity to overcome, transcend, adapt and lead the way toward better lives for themselves and a better world.


Arts, social services, education, health - mind, body, spirit all need nourishment and nurturing to be empowered and in balance.


Thanks for the blog - keep up the great work.


Jonathan Zeichner