Juan Devis- Departures
We wanted to reconsider the idea of walking through Los Angeles and exploring the power of place from the vantage point of a community resident. In this sense, the series was proposing the idea of travel as an activity that people can do in their own cities and neighborhoods.
We also wanted to question the objectivity of digital mapping by creating subjective interactive murals that celebrated the idiosyncrasies of the city’s physical space and their relationship to people and history – nuances that are impossible to “capture” through Google and other mapping portals.
Since we launched our first “pilot” installment, the series began to attract a lot of attention. The New York Times hailed it as a new form of muralism and the LA Weekly featured it in its people issue back in 2008. Late in 2009, the series became a model presented to the FCC about the uses of DigitalPublic Media Networks to Advance Broadband and Enrich Communities.
Now in its second year and with a new engagement platform, Departures has become an ecology of media that may be likened to the slow food movement: locally grown, produced and consumed – it is an oral history project, a community engagement tool, a mapping series and a digital literacy program about the past, present and future of Los Angeles.
Departures is a media hub structured to allow different kinds of editorial content to co-exist with each other and as such, it is broken into three distinct areas: Departures, Youth Voices and Community Engagement. The main Departures area provides an editorial context from which to view and understand, not only the series as a whole, but also the work created by youth and community members.
This is how it all comes together:
Neighborhoods as cities have boundaries defined by history, culture, commerce and economy. These defining areas create for us what we call chapters in a neighborhood – these chapters are presented as a series of virtual murals that provide a context from where to view the area. Each mural has a series of portraits of people and places. These portraits are presented to the user through a series of video/audio interviews that allow them to explore and learn about a particular neighborhood. Each one of these interviews has a particular geographic location that can be found on a map. The map has a series of colored pins that define different neighborhoods and sources of content. For example, we chose a sandy orange to define Venice, a deep red to denote Chinatown and so on. Similarly, the pins are broken into three categories: D (for Departures), Y (for Youth Voices), and C (for the community uploads)
The Departures Youth Voices program and curricula was tailored after the series’ production model. In addition to the Departures Production team working with local community residents and organizations to develop and produce their content, youth community participants also create their own personal maps of their neighborhoods, select 10 portraits of people and places that they adapt to the Departures map and their own personal murals.
These two separate production tracks (Youth Voices + Departures) integrate as KCET producers select a series of student portraits that will be included in the final series and allow them to “professionally” cover their subjects, providing multi-media literacy skills to the youth in the community.
Our Community Engagement area also responds to the context provided by the initial Departures neighborhood intervention and invites community members to upload stories that inhabit the editorial sphere provided by the series. Similarly, with the participation and collaboration of our Community Partners, we have created day-long community workshops (StoryShare events) aimed at capturing the stories of individuals from a neighborhood. These stories are intended to fill the in-between spaces of the professional, hand-picked interviews, and to add relevancy to the authenticity of the neighborhood’s story. Each event is produced by KCET and a host of community partners and is held at an accessible location in the community — typically one of the partner’s facilities. Each partner organization brings something unique to the event; a different member-base, a different goal to accomplish (history, arts, tutoring exercises, self-promotion, etc), and a different understanding of the neighborhood.
Departures functions like an atomized documentary that invites people to create a collective narrative of the city.