Promoting Community Development through Visual Arts: Skid Row Los Angeles

Photo from Los Angeles Poverty Department

Visual arts help to create new narratives and give ways to “re-think” many issues affecting impoverished communities.  Skid Row Los Angeles has the largest concentrated homeless population in the U.S. and visual arts have been influential in creating a soundboard for those living and working in the community by connecting their experiences to the social and political forces that shape their communities.

Over the last ten years, the Los Angeles Poverty Department has successfully incorporated visual arts through arts-based engagement within the Skid Row community.  The Los Angeles Poverty Department recently partnered with the REEL Recovery Film Festival to launch Biggest Recovery Community Anywhere, a 3-day festival centered on recovery in performance by members of the Skid Row theater group, as well as film, discussion, and fellowship.

Biggest Recovery Community Anywhere depicts Skid Row as a site of both recovery and transformation, highlighting the accessibility of professional resources and programs in the area.  To the Los Angeles Poverty Department, “getting clean and sober happens in funded programs, but recovery happens in the community.

REEL Recovery Film Festival is a project of Writers in Treatment, a nonprofit organization seeking to save lives by promoting and providing treatment for addiction through the arts.  In Biggest Recovery Community Anywhere, the Los Angeles Poverty Department and REEL Recovery Film Festival draw on the knowledge and experiences of the members of Skid Row’s recovery community, creating a “recovery consciousness.”

A 2008 study by the Urban Institute assessed the cultural vitality in the Skid Row community by engaging in discussion with individual respondents and neighborhood groups.  Individual respondents highlighted how artistic and cultural activity gave them a sense of empowerment through a greater ability to express themselves.  Artistic and cultural activity on the neighborhood level was considered essential to increasing the livability of the community and creating a community identity.

From its successes in working with recovery programs, shelters, advocates, and art organizations in the Skid Row community, the Los Angeles Poverty Department has been invited to create similar projects in communities throughout the US, in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.  For more information and a list of upcoming Los Angeles Poverty Department events, visit their website here.


Jenna Chilingerian is a CEOs for Cities Summer Success Fellow. Jenna is a Fresno, California native and recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles.  Jenna received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Civic Engagement, and earned both College Honors and Summa Cum Laude Latin Honors.  She recently moved to Cleveland, Ohio to complete a summer City Success Fellowship with CEOs for Cities.

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