Developed by Department of Arts and Culture Creative Strategist Sandra de la Loza, an artist-in-residence with the Department of Parks and Recreation in 2019-2022, Creating Connections: An Arts and Culture Framework and Toolkit establishes standards for arts and culture as core programming across all County parks. Using extensive research, collective dialogue, and collaborative envisioning, the toolkit is guided by the importance of the principles of cultural relevance, equity, and inclusion. Inspired by the everyday activities that bring people to parks, Creating Connections contains a framework and practical tools to implement art and cultural programs centered around four themes: Art and Community, Art and Nature, Art and Wellness, and Art and Food. It is designed to support parks in functioning as vibrant, enlivened, and active spaces that provide opportunities for social and environmental connectivity and regeneration. It is primarily written for staff, program providers, community partners, and advocates of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
From Sandra de la Loza's Introduction
This framework and toolkit were designed to draw on the artistic and cultural expressions of Los Angeles County, from the traditional to experimental, ancestral to futuristic, and natural to urban. It envisions programming that creates space so that the stories, struggles, and dreams of all residents can be told, shared, and enjoyed. It approaches creative expression as a vital tool for inward and outward, personal and collective transformation. The themes of community, food, nature, and wellness can contribute to the integrity and strength of a larger structure, a holistic arts and culture program that has the potential to move toward deepening relationship to place and building intergenerational bonds across culture.
Through a partnership between the Departments of Arts and Culture and Parks and Recreation, de la Loza was invited to prototype the Creating Connections framework at Earvin "Magic" Johnson Park (EMJ Park), a vital green space in South Los Angeles. As a newly renovated nature park that features native plant ecosystems, a water remediation project, and a new community center, EMJ Park proved to be the perfect site to implement a program at the intersection of art, community, and wellness.
At EMJ Park, de la Loza designed a wide range of community-engaged and culturally relevant arts and culture projects. This work involved building strategic partnerships with local arts organizations and community groups; conducting arts and cultural asset mapping; facilitating cross-sector and inter-agency collaborations; developing training and curriculum materials for Parks staff; creating activities that engaged the community; and co-facilitating a strategic planning process to envision and plan for arts, culture, and wellness programming specific to the needs of the surrounding communities.
Begun during the COVID-19 pandemic, initial programs explored a dynamic array of offerings, strategies, and approaches to address the systemic inequities exacerbated by increased isolation and access to healthy programming and green space during quarantine. These initial strategies were expanded upon as conditions improved to allow for in-person events and as newly renovated park amenities opened.