When we first developed our Boyle Heights programming three years ago, we laid what would become the foundations of our work at a community engagement strategies brainstorming session. One of the many lists we made was titled “Barriers of Participation,” alongside another list of solutions for said barriers. Here’s what we’ve learned about tackling the “location” barrier over the last three years of programming.
Where are you located?
Near the Sears building on Olympic.
Do you know the secondhand store Deseret Industries on 11th?
We’re further down on the same street.
You know where the Dollar Tree is, the one on the corner of Olympic and Camulos?
The one by the Social Security office?
Yes, that one! We’re right behind it on 11th. 11th runs parallel to Olympic.
Oh, I didn’t know there was anything over there, just a lot of factories.
Our warehouse is there. It’s where we store everything for our shows, including costumes, props, and sets, and that’s where the workshops take place.
The above conversation was one I had many times when we first started telling people about our Boyle Heights location. Center Theatre Group’s costume shop and prop warehouse, The Shop, has been located in the southern end of Boyle Heights for over 10 years. It is located in an industrial area bordering Downtown L.A. and the city of Vernon, near Olympic Blvd, a busy street used by commuters on their way to work. Much of Boyle Heights is dissected by freeways; the Golden State (5) and Pomona (60) Freeways isolate the southern end. Public transportation is available, but the location is much more accessible to drivers than pedestrians. On weekends, when our workshops take place, the area around The Shop is quiet and offers lots of parking for participants. Nonetheless, this area is still regarded as "sketchy," although it has been transforming as gentrification begins. High-end companies are buying up properties and upgrading facades. This just means that the area is slowly moving from scary to unwelcoming.
How do you solve location when changing your location is not an option?
We made the decision to create more locations.
Before we invited anyone to The Shop, we got to know our neighbors. Three city libraries became our new locations—places to meet people and forge a relationship through workshops, play readings, and costume displays. Consistent programming at each library—a space where people were already comfortable—introduced us to future participants for workshops at The Shop.
Continual visibility at the libraries, farmers’ markets, neighborhood council meetings, and community events were all opportunities to introduce our programs and identify our location.
The initial bilingual flyers and bookmarks we created all had maps indicating each library and The Shop. The maps also included small cross streets and bus stops.
Signage was instrumental in guiding people to The Shop. Our first year, we made signs and placed them at every corner around the building on workshop days. We also put up brightly colored balloons and signs on our door, and purchased four large vinyl banners to show people where we were. Our first logo was incredibly bright and colorful and was used on all collateral.
We also included location information in advertisements in the local independent East Los Angeles newspaper. I spent a lot of my time going door-to-door near The Shop, introducing myself and telling people where we were. It’s important to note that Boyle Heights is a very proud community, and on several occasions I had to prove my street cred and convince people that Center Theatre Group was not there to change the community but was investing in our neighbors.
What We've Learned
In overcoming our location barrier, we’ve learned:
- We had to get to know our neighbors first.
- Boyle Heights is comprised of many sub-communities, and people like to use the resources from their immediate community.
- We had to create multiple locations or multiple access points for residents to get to know us in their immediate community.
- We had to find a way to create a “stream” to The Shop to help guide participants to our home.
- Part of our ongoing dialogue will include directions to The Shop.
- Maps are very helpful.
- Lots of bright signs and balloons will not only guide people to the event but will attract passers-by.
- Once neighbors feel welcomed, they return and bring other neighbors along.