August 14–16, 2020
Big City Forum (BCF) conducted a three-day residency as an Action Projects in ICA LA’s Field Workshop. Founded in 2008 by artist, educator, and activist Leonardo Bravo, Big City Forum “is an independent, interdisciplinary project that explores the intersection between design-based creative disciplines within the context of public space, the built environment, and social change.” In three sessions, BCF worked with different groups—first, their current team; second, a cohort of alums from BCF’s 10-year history; third, the community at-large in an open session online. Each session provided veteran and recent collaborators of BCF to reflect not only on the organization’s history and evolution but also to explore the role of art organizations in the creating new forms of engagement to reimagine systems and structures for cultural impact.
Day 1: Team Meeting: Leonardo Bravo, Cynthia Vargas, Reina Imagawa, and Jeremy Rosenberg discuss BCF’s history and brainstorm ideas for meeting with BCF alumni on Day 2.
Day 2: Meeting of Alums: Past collaborators of BCF were invited to join the next phase of the exploratory work. What began as a presentation of BCF’s past programs and mission, gradually transitioned into critical discourse around building and sustaining community and art organizations. Reflection around BCF’s history emphasized the “shapeshifting” nature of BCF, which revealed a quality that could be applied to conducting cultural production work today. Programmatically, BCF has always initiated diverse projects, possessing an intersection of art, community, and design. What might seem unusual to many, this constantly changing and shifting spirit of BCF, is what makes the organization so special. One collaborator noted “staying the same is the most successful way to move through the capitalist system.” Change is inevitable and non-negotiable; under the guise of embracing change, BCF reminds us tap into to our imagination and creative potential.
Day 3: Community Open Forum: BCF invited artist Danny Gamboa to speak about the ongoing project, SELA Strong. In response to “COVID-19, the Stay at Home Order, and the Civil Rights Movement’s fight for Justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others,” SELA Strong presents stories of resilience from community members of southeast Los Angeles. Danny highlighted the work of Tetris, who (with other artists) painted a 150-foot-long mural in the city of Bell. He also shared the screening of one of the SELA Strong short films about sisters Paola and Karely, who organize and share resources for their Compton community residents during COVID-19. This film about Paola and Karely is an official selection for the Montreal Film Festival. Additionally, their GoFundMe page is accepting donations to compensate the creators of the project (www.selastrong.com).
Throughout the discussion and engagement of films, projects, and other resources, BCF’s Action Project underscored the importance of championing thought rather than objects, of embracing change, and of understanding the language of existing structures in order to reimagine and visualize new futures. And while the definition of community and public space may change overtime, what remains constant is our desire for connection.
Special thanks to Leonardo Bravo (bigcityforum.blogspot.com), Cynthia Vargas (stairwell.org), Reina Imagawa (reinaimagawa.com), and Jeremy Rosenberg (losjeremy.com/blog/) for facilitating deep reflection through Field Workshop: Action Projects series.
— Habiba Hopson, 2020 Getty Marrow Intern, ICA LA