USC Roski School of Arts students partnered with The Skid Row Arts Alliance to help the homeless community cope with their loss of art due to COVID-19.
The Skid Row Arts Alliance promotes positive social change within the Skid Row community by endorsing creative arts projects amongst the homeless. The alliance consists of several outreach organizations including Piece by Piece, Street Symphony, Studio 526, and Skid Row Coffee. It resides in the Los Angeles Poverty Department’s multi-use space.
MFA Roski students Danielle Cansino and Jose Sanchez teamed up with USC’s Arts in Action lead producer, William Warrener, to create zine guides, a print media outlet that shares various forms of artwork with creatives for Skid Row’s artistic community. Together with the Skid Row Alliance, they created 170 packages containing a zine guide with individual arts activities, arts kits from USC Roski, headphones and masks.
The guides were designed by Cansino and Sanchez while the masks were sewn together by performance artist, Kristina Wong.
“It's been very difficult as art makers to be staying at home and not use our studio spaces,” Cansino said. “And to think of the people in the Skid Row community that attended these art programs everyday to be completely cut off from their programming, that’s terrible.”
Wong is making hundreds of masks with her aunt for individuals who can’t afford them. She’s focusing on essential workers and members of indigenous communities who are most at risk during the pandemic.
“We're not doing this because we're trying to prove that we're good Americans. We are doing it because we're human beings trying to be humans to others,” Wong said.
The Skid Row homeless community is made up of a diverse and immensely talented society, according to Clancey Cornell, a member of Skid Row Alliance. Cornell mentioned some of the different passions community members of Skid Row Alliance possess.
“I try to bring light to the fact that there is a very vibrant artistic community in the Skid Row neighborhood that's been around for many decades and is very prolific as well,” Cornell said. “There's a lot of artists, singers, musicians, dancers, all kinds of actors.”
The Skid Row Arts Alliance and Arts in Action afford residents cultural offerings to offer relief from waiting months to access services. The programs provide constructive social change by implementing intensive arts projects between students, faculty and community partners.
Whether it be weekly music sessions with Urban Voices, Friday art sessions at Studio 526 or theatre rehearsals with the Los Angeles Poverty Department, these grassroots art organizations exist to open up accessible arts programming to the community.
The loss of their art program could be detrimental to Skid Row members as many of them use art as an outlet to cope with their circumstances, according to Cornell.
"These arts programs are a lot more than just art books,” she said. "They really can be a lifeline for some. They could be a sense of community, sense of family.”
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there are approximately 4,800 people experiencing homelessness on Skid Row. Warrener, the lead producer for Arts in Action at USC, felt that there was no place more in need of art than Skid Row. He added that that many people living in the Skid Row neighborhood depend on arts programming for survival.
“We and our partners consider access to the arts to be like a lifeline and an essential human right for everyone who’s there,” Warrener said. “So it feels like given the programs I manage to change, Skid Row is the place where it’s needed most.”
Cansino, Sanchez, and Warrener expect to continue support through online Zoom classes for this community. Interactive arts classes will be held online, so the community can still have that creative outlet.
“There’s coloring pages, there’s poems, there’s jokes, there’s all kinds of interactive material inside of there. We’re hoping in the next batch to get SIM cards for cellular phones,” Cansino said.
Cansino, Sanchez and Warrener hope to continue to distribute the zine guides to the community to keep the artists of Skid Row motivated to continue their art.
“We’ve only had one round of the magazine design and care packages, but we plan to make this a biweekly thing and we hope to continue it as long as possible,” Cansino said.