So the folks at Adobe liked our vision for the future of Departures and funded three new installments, all of which have to be rolled out before the end of 2009! This was exciting news, but - like anything - brought with it an awful lot of work. The trickiest question? How to build an infrastructure that could sustain an educational experience that went beyond the production of the site and the media.
Thinking about that, we realized that (even with funding!) we couldn't go at it alone. We needed partners, people that know, need and want this project as much as we do. Partners that are passionate, undivided and real.
That's where FoLAR - the Friends of the LA River - came into the picture. Under the direction of poet and activist Lewis MacAdams - a deeply resonant person - and his team - Shelly, Alicia and Ramona - FoLAR has engaged surrounding communities in programs that have revitalized the River's social and environmental life. They've almost single-handedly changed the perception that the LA river ain't a river but a flood control system.
With FoLAR helping us build a content base and curriculum, we needed to find and identify a group of students to work with. This led me to reconnect with the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, a charter school adjacent to the River and whose open curriculum is based on social justice and equal participation. I had worked with students from LALA and the Institute of Multimedia Literacy a couple of years back, making Pac-Man games based on student's neighborhood maps and narratives. I called Roger Lowenstein, the school's founder and executive director, and proposed the new project to him. He loved the idea, and went to find some students to participate.
The Academy's student body is mainly working class Latino, Asian and African-American and they often have little or no contact with green and public space in Los Angeles. On March 20th, production of the LA River installment began with the participation of 24 of these students - all between the ages of 15 and 17 -, staff from FoLAR and KCET.
After a lecture from Alicia Katano, it didn't take long for the students to come up with solutions to clean and revitalize the river.
And present it the to the class.
Welcome to Departures: LA River