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About My Fellowship At the Getty!

In the first three months of 2023, I’ll have the extraordinary honor of serving as a Guest Scholar at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) to bring our perspective to the field of cultural heritage conservation. I will be in residence at Getty Center, researching the role of public art in preserving local narratives and empowering communities. I’m thrilled by the chance to step back and reflect on our work at LA Commons since our founding in 2000 to advance knowledge about the impact of powerful stories shared in the public realm on community legacy and agency.

I founded LA Commons 20 years ago with an eye toward equity and justice, to specifically support people in the region’s diverse neighborhoods by providing an artistic and cultural platform to tell stories that lay claim to the hard won spaces where they work and reside. We are particularly focused through our work on empowering intergenerational networks of youth, artists and community members in South and Central Los Angeles, some of the most chronically underserved areas in the state.

I am a native Angeleno, having grown up in Compton. I am also a student of Los Angeles history and recognize that likely the reason my father bought the house on Elva Avenue was because for Blacks at that time Central Avenue was a median dividing them from points West. For those in my racial group, having limited choices as to one’s placement on the map of the city has been a way of life at least since early in the 20th Century. And as a result, it is difficult, for me at least, to not have a sense of indignation as I witness this challenge played out today, not because of racial covenants in the real estate agreements, but because of the lack of wealth based on centuries of discrimination, to access the million dollars it requires to buy a house in many parts of our region today.

During my time in residence at the Getty Conservation Institute, I intend to document LA Commons’ work and place it in the context of other efforts taking place across the country, and perhaps internationally, to preserve historic narratives. There are alarming levels of gentrification and displacement everywhere, making this project especially valuable now. Our activities are a testament to the community spirit and the role of art and culture in animating it, and my hope is that I can create inspiration for those with the inclination to become advocates and activists in their communities.

The Fellowship complements my involvement in GCI’s partnership with the Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources (OHR) on the LA African American Historic Places Project which, through a focus on the built environment, aims to identify, protect and celebrate Los Angeles’ black heritage. This three-year project first began in 2021, through a public-nonprofit partnership in which local communities and cultural institutions have been able to offer critical insights concerning the history of culturally notable sites worthy of preservation throughout the city.

As the Executive Director of the African Cultural Heritage Action Fund notes,“This project will illuminate overlooked narratives and historic places important to Los Angeles and our nation that deserve protection and recognition.” LA Commons does just that - unearthing local narratives and community histories through our longstanding Neighborhoods Story Connection program, which translates stories into accessible, engaging public artworks. Our continued involvement with and dedication to our legacy neighborhoods - Leimert Park, Willowbrook, Fremont, and Exposition Park - ought to be documented as a crucial piece of the larger narratives centering Black culture, landmarks, and experiences within Los Angeles. I look forward to updates over the next three months as I document my time “on the hill!” Thanks so much to the Getty Conservation Institute team for this incredible opportunity.

Karen Mack

Executive Director, LA Commons

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