At first glance, L.A.'s Skid Row doesn't seem like it would have a flourishing performance-art scene.
But Skid Row's Los Angeles Poverty Department -- abbreviated as, yes, LAPD -- was founded by director John Malpede in 1985 to develop the arts and culture of the city's well-known home to the homeless. Though its focus is interdisciplinary, LAPD is also the first performance group in the nation to be made up primarily of homeless or formerly homeless people. Its theory of social justice: Create change and supplant stereotypes by placing the community's narrative into its own hands.
This Memorial Day weekend, LAPD will host a three-day-long parade called "Walk the Talk" that will take place across Skid Row, led by a brass band called Paradigm Brass as well as pick-up musicians. Dozens of performances will take place at approximately 31 stops, each a symbolic site that will honor one of 36 men and women who have positively shaped the Skid Row community.
Street artist Mr. Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta of Exit Through the Gift Shop fame, painted lushly colored portraits of all 36 figures, some of whom have passed away. These works will be carried throughout the streets as part of the parade or, as more eloquently worded in the parade invitation, the "peripatetic performance."
It adds (or rather, enthuses), "Bring your tambourine, your kazoo, your cowbell, your laughter, your attention."
LAPD's event is no Macy's Day Parade, that annual spectacle easily unmoored from its local context for nationwide broadcast; "Walk the Talk" very much belongs to the space it traverses.
"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," says Malpede. Though he hopes the parade will attract members of the local community, he also wants to draw a larger audience from beyond Skid Row's borders. Ideally, he says, the parade will give visitors an "in-depth look at the community as it really is, as opposed to how it's sometimes portrayed, which doesn't really reflect most of the community." A significant difference? Most long-term residents live indoors, not on the streets, as many think.
The event will be the culmination of a whole year's preparation. After their cavalcade across Skid Row, the 36 portraits will be installed in a permanent outdoor site, in the spirit of public art. Exactly where that will be is still uncertain.
"We were hoping that everything would align perfectly -- the parade would end with the installation of the portraits -- but it hasn't worked out that way," Malpede says with a hint of frustration that quickly segues into resolution. "But that's just the next phase of the project."
"Walk the Talk" will move from East Sixth Street to Gladys Park on Saturday, from Main Street to San Julian Park on Sunday and from East Sixth Street to Central Community Church on Monday. For more information, visit the Los Angeles Poverty Department website.