Los Angeles Mission recently released a short documentary, or mini doc, that covers homelessness in Los Angeles and Skid Row.
“The Heart of Skid Row,” features commentary from LA Mission’s Executive Director, Pastor Troy Von, along with information about the organization’s services, and incorporates images of the Kenny Scharf mural he painted on the building of the non-profit organization.
LA Mission Arts Council, an advocacy group that started during the pandemic, is part of LA Mission and works to make the organization more visible to the public. The council aims to spread the dynamics of poverty in a modernized way across the state and country and helped orchestrate Scharf’s documentary and mural.
Eli Graham, president of the LA Mission Arts Council, described the council as “an advocacy group that focuses primarily on homelessness mental health and addictions,” he said.
“We advocate for causes (focusing on our purpose) and raise awareness of causes, driving the change that needs to happen around these issues.”
A notable example of the LA Arts Council’s work is a recent partnership with UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools to create a free guide for teachers on how they can discuss homelessness in the classroom.
“This is part of (LA Mission’s) advocacy to create a way to provide guides, resources and information from our expertise in homelessness and poverty,” he said.
Graham said the naming of the mini doc and the mural was intentional and meaningful.
“When we say ‘Heart of Skid Row,’ it’s referring to the collective humanity and the voices that are in that community,” he said.
“The voices of individuals in this field are not being heard, which LA Mission and the LA Mission Arts Council are doing. We bring their voice to everyone’s attention and plead for more support for homeless people.
The documentary came at a time when the council began collaborating with artists like Scharf.
“We thought it was important to share a visual representation of the current work being done with the LA mission, matching it with this amazing project we did with Kenny Scharf,” Graham said.
The documentary shares the nonprofit’s multi-story renovation that provides better living conditions for residents, and a long-term recovery program called “Fresh Start.” The 12-month residency program helps LA Mission and Skid Row residents on their path to “independent living,” according to the documentary.
Graham said the documentary, along with Scharf’s mural, worked simultaneously, not only contributing to a showcase of the organization’s work, but making the Los Angeles mission known to those who didn’t know it.
Graham said that while it is difficult to quantify the impact of Scharf’s mural on the organization, he has noticed an “exponential” increase in volunteer interest. The mural, like the council’s other projects, serves to modernize the way people in need find and receive support for shelter, recovery programs and counselling.
“We’re putting out a statement to the public that we’re here,” Graham said. “We are showing that we are a powerful force that can do good for the city and we hope that as we continue people will notice and understand. That’s what makes people seek healing.
A 30-year-old artist, Scharf said the project began with a direct message on social media asking if he would be traveling to LA Mission to paint. In accepting the project, he said it was the right thing to do.
“I just stumbled upon it, and of course I jumped at the chance to do whatever might help. For me, it was a very rewarding experience, especially when I know it touched people. As a as an artist, that’s all I can ask for.
Scharf said he thought the project was a rewarding and touching experience after having conversations with Skid Row residents.
“The conversations I had with the beautiful souls of Skid Row who responded to what I was doing surprised me because of their caring, and it brought me to tears a lot. … I was so honored to doing the mural and I was touched by the reaction from the neighborhood,” he said.
While painting, Scharf spoke with Kevin Kidd, a six-year Skid Row resident who came to Los Angeles to pursue an artistic career.
Although Kidd is not affiliated with LA Mission and does not use its housing services, he is aware of housing programs through other nonprofit organizations.
Kidd’s interaction with Scharf and Graham happened upon seeing Scharf at work which Kidd passes by every day and says “beautiful”.
After speaking with Graham and Scharf about the mural and the art, Kidd asked if he could bring his own art to show them both. According to Kidd, he bonded with Scharf and Graham. The meeting allowed him to sell some of his art. Meeting Scharf and Graham, Kidd said, motivated him and gave him the “push to success” he needed.
Although Kidd maintains an exemplary level of optimism, hope and faith for his life and career, he spoke about the reality of life at Skid Row, unafraid of the traumatic experiences that shape many residents’ lives. from the community.
“I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime (on Skid Row), but I’m still here,” Kidd said, “I’m going to pursue this artistic career to the end of the earth if must.
“(The mural) is making a difference in the community thanks to people like me. It means hope. Some people on these streets might not receive help; some of these people could die on these streets. Even though the mural isn’t for everyone and it was for one person – me, Kevin Kidd – then it serves its purpose,” Kidd said.
Next up for the LA Mission Arts Council is an art exhibit titled “Prices with a Purpose” in downtown Los Angeles next to the Ace Hotel on Oct. 1. The council will accept donations for the non-profit at the expo and will donate “certificates” in return, in the form of household items and clothing.
For example, someone who donates an amount worth 10 t-shirts would receive a single t-shirt that reads, “This t-shirt is worth 10 t-shirts,” Graham said. The purpose of the exhibit is to interact with people who stay in nicer areas of downtown LA and don’t come to Skid Row. It’s called “Prices with a Purpose”.
“This is the start of a long journey of creating a national platform that champions homelessness,” Graham said.
“Los Angeles is just the beginning; we’re going to grow and we’re glad people noticed Kenny Scharf’s mini doc and mural. It’s a statement to the amazing community we have in Los Angeles.