Art does not exist in a vacuum. It’s infused with social issues, laden with political implications. And it’s intertwined with its physical geography. After four days of reporting the arts from the bike lanes, sidewalks and bus stops of Los Angeles, we discovered a few truths about covering culture.
The way you get there does matter. Traveling through the city at a slower pace gave us a new perspective. We were able to stop along the way to learn about the neighborhood, or make connections between two places that we couldn’t have made in a car. We could stop for ceviche tacos and talk to a street vendor. On foot or bike, we were able to engage with people quickly and more effectively than we could have if we drove there. (Some of us were so engaged, we got jaywalking tickets.)
Transportation is a major issue for the arts. Across the city, no matter who we spoke with, transportation inevitably worked its way into the conversation. Whether for environmental or economic reasons, people are trying new ways to get places. Most interestingly, many artists mentioned that they were trying out transit or riding a bike for the first time, which allowed them to connect with the city in a new way. Many are producing works which are inspired by this new relationship.
A new method of arrival allows you to discover hidden stories. Putting ourselves in context put ourselves in the conversation. The experiences we had cut across racial and economic divides, and allowed us to find out what was on the minds of people who are very, very different from us. There’s no better way to find out what people are thinking than to climb on a bus and listen. If you’re on foot you can easily engage someone on the sidewalk.
Many artists think arts journalism doesn’t “get them.” Many of the artists we spoke with were quick to mention that the type of arts reporting they currently see in Los Angeles didn’t include their work. Whether it was the fact that the larger publications were ignoring their kind of work, or the notion that the conversation about their work didn’t tell the whole story, a large community of artists and creators feel marginalized by today’s journalism.
Don’t look for art, look for community. Instead of looking for “big-A” art, we looked for evidence of culture. This was sometimes in a way that people were hoping to improve their neighborhoods. The residents were most excited to talk about the solutions which were bubbling up from their own communities. Culture for most people is more about restaurants and churches than it is about museums and galleries.
It was exciting to start to think about a new type of journalism for Los Angeles. But then we realized: It’s not just L.A. that’s transforming like this. Around the world, major transformations to urban design, an explosion of public transit, and increasingly, rapid gentrification are changing the physical landscape of our cities. Instead of reporting faster, we need to report slower.
Could we take a page from the Slow Food movement and propose a type of “Slow Journalism” that would be embraced worldwide: an experiential, contextual approach to covering art? A return to the idea of covering a beat—by walking, riding or busing—in order to unearth the cultural stories that are more relevant and valuable to our audiences.