If you Google SkidRow, Wikipedia will tell you, "Skid Row contains one of the largest stable populations, between 3,000 and 6,000, of homeless people in the United States. The sidewalks are lined with cardboard boxes, tents, and shopping carts." This is, however, not the SkidRow I experienced when I attended the World Economic Forum's New Champion Series' event at the Inner City Art's Facility in the middle of Skid Row. The Inner City Art's Facility is a brand-new, beautiful space used to provide extensive arts programming to local students, and was utilized as a space to host 50 local and global leaders including founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab; Mayor Eric Garcetti; Grammy-award winning musician, former White House Chief of Staff under Obama and current head of global citizenship at Disney, Mike Strautmanis; Samuel Hoi, president of Otis College of Art & Design; and more.
The concept behind the event was "LA Creates," an exploration of creative economies as they relate to key issues facing Mega Cities. As a fourth-generation New Yorker, who just recently packed all of my boxes and headed to LA, splitting my time between LA and supporting on building a city in Las Vegas, and an even more recent Global Shaper, I felt lucky to be surrounded by the brilliance of such dynamic leaders who have such a dedication to tapping into the creative economy of LA.
As a fairly jaded New Yorker, I was the first to brush LA aside for years as an option to settle down, believing LA "made people soft," or even more so to go as far, as "there is no culture in LA." After visiting here two years, ago, I knew this is where I wanted to be. I felt a different vibrancy here, a new way of life and creativity that I just didn't feel anymore in my 2,000-square-foot apartment I was paying twice as much as any normal person should pay for. I felt stifled, and over-programmed. I started meeting other likeminded individuals who had traveled from all over to move to LA as well. Not just for the sun, or the chance to "make it big," but for the idea that it's ok to enjoy life and work hard, to have space and quality of life in a way that NYC and many other parts of the country cannot offer in the way LA offers.
I didn't realize how I apparently was one of thousands of people who saw this booming potential in LA, until Samuel Hoi, president of the Otis College of Arts and Design, spoke about the Otis Report's stats, which states that there are "640,000 jobs, $200 billion in sales and $3 billion in tax revenue." He discussed the dynamics of creating a positive creative culture through connection and livability and went into detail about LA being the No. 1 most creative economy in the U.S., with a breakdown of 42.2 percent being entertainment 9.1 percent visual and performing arts, 28.2 percent fashion and 8.6 percent furniture/décor, which to all of you New Yorkers believing LA is just a bunch of struggling actors, it is seemingly a lot more than just a Hollywood Sign.
The difference between this event and the 25 other conferences I have attended this year (I call this "market research") to help me be really good at my job at curating a monthly speaker series in downtown Las Vegas called Catalyst Week, was that this was not just individuals speaking at the audience, it was a dynamic opportunity to have compelling conversations to determine what could be done for creative growth in LA. More so, it was an opportunity to tackle problems that we face in LA so we could use these solutions as a microcosm for a larger issue to tackle, which is creativity or the lack thereof in America, and more so, the world.
As I am the CEO and founder of a community design firm, CatalystCreativ, which is in partnership with the Downtown Project in building Tony Hsieh's "$350 million city as a start up" in downtown Las Vegas, I am so excited to join forces with other likeminded individuals who are tackling problems in an action-focused way, but with an underlying foundation of creativity. Downtown Vegas has a praying mantis, which spits out fire in the middle of the city and a partnership with Burning Man, and so I see the power of creativity to foster community. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Tyler Stonebreaker speak about Creative Space, and the powerful work he is doing in Downtown LA. From Handsome Coffee, to Zinc Café, to an indoor rock-climbing wall, to the first grocery store downtown, he believes a community is a fluid model that is always changing, and must have mutations, which cultivate a creative community of thinkers, dreamers but also doers.
I was lucky enough to be placed in Tyler's group with 10 other attendees from diverse backgrounds ranging in policy, education, media, and community development to figure out a model, which would affectively identify a way to focus on positively impacting the concept of placemaking in the next 10 years. We rifted off ideas from each other, and dreamed of a way to combine all of the diversity, multicultural differences, and barriers of traffic that make LA, LA. It was so gratifying to be able to hear from such a diverse group, but still with the same intention, to create LA, to continue to develop the creativity and "magic" that is ingrained in so much that LA has to offer. If the day ended here, it would be great, as I already felt like I was able to get so much from the diversity of the speakers and serendipitous moments between talks, but it went one step further when Mayor Eric Garcetti and Klaus Schwab ended the day with final remarks.
The mayor was shown all of our ideas for ways to support creativity in LA, and all politics aside, I must say as a speaker, an influencer and a fourth-generation Angelino, he is a truly inspiring scholar who is working on LA the way I would hope many would look at the world, as a balance between high tech and high touch, integrating old fashion solutions, "filling up pot holes" with new ways of implementing those solutions, (integrating tech and amplifying all of the innovation happening in LA). He made note of the fact that LA has three of the top five research universities in the country, and is the location where the Rover that went to Mars was built, where a cure for blindness was found, and where you can feel home as a foreigner, but still always find something new as a local.
I am lucky enough to learn from a brilliant, innovative thought leader (who happens to be a Young Global Leader) in the World Economic Forum: Tony Hsieh, who is navigating the way in creativity and community design, and Eric Garcetti mimicked all of the positive aspects I have heard so often from Tony about the power of cities. He ended his inspirational speech with a quote from Aristotle, noting that "the city came into being to preserve life, but it exists for the good life." While he is in no way saying there is not work to be done to be able to create LA into an economic hub of creativity, I believe that if we all thought a little bit more about how we can start to tap into our creative sides and apply it to our local communities, the world would be a pretty remarkable place.