After coming down from one of the most life-transforming journalism experiences I’ve ever encountered (more on that later!), I was honored to learn this week that I have been chosen as one of seven USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellows, a program that brings writers, editors, and producers to LA to study the city’s art, architecture and urban culture. In November, along with Joerg Haentzschel, Jennifer Hsu, Ryan Pearson, Gillian Rennie, Wei Wei Wong, and Douglas Wolk, I will embark on an intensive investigation of, according to the program description, “the distinct cultural cauldron of Los Angeles.” (I love that.)
Of course, as you know, I’m already quite enamored with my local cultural cauldron, so you might wonder why I’d want to immerse myself in the place I already live. I anticipated that the program’s directors would want to know the same thing, so that is what I tried to address in my statement of purpose that I wrote to include with my application. With their permission, I wanted to share it with you. I couldn’t be more thrilled about this amazing opportunity. Stay tuned!
To truly examine the future of arts journalism, we must look at L.A.’s 704 Metro Rapid bus.
A hot-rod red bullet with accordion-like folds at its middle snakes down the length of Los Angeles’s Santa Monica Boulevard, from Union Station to the Pacific Ocean. To me, it is perhaps L.A.’s most progressive work of public art: A convergence of industrial design and craft, wayfinding and graphics, urban planning and infrastructural architecture, accessible and available to every community across the city. But not many people who live in Los Angeles have the ability to appreciate it. They’re too busy cursing at it from behind the wheel of their car.
My job is to get people on that bus. To tell the story of those sexy-flexy curves, why it’s L.A.’s best chance at a sustainable city, and how an ongoing collaboration between artists, designers, engineers, politicians, drivers and riders keeps it rolling through the streets. But penning a series of inflammatory diatribes on transit advocacy would make people more inclined to throw themselves under that bus than ride it. Instead, I make riding a bus irresistible. I tell the story from every angle: From bus-riding updates on Twitter, to blog posts where I snap photos of bus stops, to interviews with Metro creatives, to videos about the commuter experience, to criticism of the latest transit line, to essays about what it’s like not to have a car in Los Angeles (both the good and the bad).
As a person who writes about creative problem solving, my job goes far beyond simply reporting a story. It’s my responsibility to make that story so undeniably entertaining that my audience feels an emotional connection to a designer, or an object, or their city—and more importantly, they’re inspired to take creative action themselves.
When I started my career, design and architecture was spiraling towards irrelevance at cataclysmic rate. When I blogged daily for UnBeige, which is like a Gawker for designers, I made light of the situation by skewering the bloated blobularity of a $60,000 Zaha Hadid sofa. As our culture was humbled by economic and environmental disasters, the industry paradigm flipped: The designers and architects creating a positive impact in society became the celebrities. Suddenly I could write passionately about parks! And people cared!
Almost overnight my job changed: Where once my writing was a snarky tool for eviscerating inflated architect egos, now it could be used to champion the causes of the good guys. From writing case studies on sustainability for the business community at Fast Company, to debating affordable housing projects in Dwell, to reviewing David Byrne’s book on biking for the public radio program DnA: Design and Architecture, I’m able to promote the causes I believe in by sharing the stories of artists and designers who are making them happen.
This new model becomes most apparent in my role at GOOD, where my work has gone far beyond writing a weekly column—now I’m organizing events and curating challenges to bring the work of these creatives to life. One such initiative we launched two years ago is GOOD Design, where designers present solutions to urban problems proposed by city leaders, at fun, fast-paced events across the country. These events form incredible partnerships between designers and civic leaders and help spark lively discussions about cities and change that can’t happen in the magazine. This is the kind of work that I strive to do as a writer.
And that’s why I’m lucky to live in L.A—it’s the world’s largest artists’ district, and a city that’s undergoing dramatic change. So you may be curious as to why I want to apply for this program, seeing as I’m already sold on LA’s unique creative community. For the past year I’ve been working on a series of essays that tell my story of this evolving L.A. through the eclectic work of artists, designers and architects I have encountered in Los Angeles. An intense focus on this topic would provide an invaluable immersion experience for my stories, which I hope to develop into both a book and event series.
L.A. is experiencing a rare moment when these creatives are poised to influence urban culture on a global scale, working together to make an improved city that inspires and engages its citizens on a daily basis. Los Angeles represents unprecedented possibility for creatives and cities working together everywhere. I feel so strongly about participating in this program because I believe we need more writers—and filmmakers, and radio producers, and photographers—to help tell this new L.A. narrative to the world.
Starting with the part where even the most auto-dependent Angelenos might try riding that bus.