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As founder and director of LA Commons, Karen Mack and her team of organizers showcase the rich cultural fabric of Los Angeles. Through community partnerships, the non-profit organization develops community-based public art projects that give voice to local narratives from all over the city’s diverse neighborhoods. In this interview, Mack discusses the future of LA Commons and some of her favorite spots in LA.
What is your dream project?
Every October, we implement Found LA. It’s a series of free tours around the city. I like to think of it as a citywide show and tell — a chance for Angelenos from across the city to open their doors to their neighbors and share what’s special about their neighborhoods and, most importantly, to make connections. We’ve done this for the past five years and have had up to 18 tours in one day. My dream is to scale this event up so that for at least one weekend every year, there are experiences available in every corner of Los Angeles, so that we have a chance to really interact with the ‘other,’ and find out how much we have in common.
How do you approach organizing for your business?
We start with our Strategic Plan, which provides the basis for completing annual plans which we are focusing significant attention on these days. We find this process grounds us in the tasks we have to do to meet our goals. The board and the staff are now working together more intentionally to create ways to measure how well we are doing what we say we want to do. Our staff meets regularly to check in on the priorities and the challenges in meeting them. It is a small team, but we are able to accomplish a lot, as we are very nimble and easily make adjustments to move things forward.
What is the biggest challenge of your business?
Funding our administrative costs.
What is next on the horizon for LA Commons?
Recently, we were funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, in a partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, to implement a project to uncover the rich cultural treasure in Central Los Angeles and to develop a platform for showcasing the unsung creatives there. Over the next two years we will be partnering with community members in these areas in a grassroots process to discover people and places that contribute to unique cultural identities.
What is your typical Friday night?
Hanging out with my family, eating take out, and playing games at home, or walking with them to LACMA to see art, listen to music, and connect with the people we invariably run into at one of Los Angeles’s great gathering places.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Los Angeles?
That the identity of the city is defined solely by Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Disneyland, and the beach.
What are your favorite local restaurants?
Train or plane?
Sriracha or Ranch dressing?
Ranch on a barbecue chicken salad!
Traditional book or e-book reader?
Traditional — nothing better than reading the actual paper in bed on Sunday morning.
Beach or Countryside?
It’s a tossup — depends on where and with whom. My most recent trip was to stunning Utah with my family with stops in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty. Incredible!
Ice Cream Sundae or Smoothie?
Hmmmm… naughty or nice” Depends on my mood and my willpower.
Apple or Android’
Android… I resist joining cults!
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Interview by Marie Cradle