A new play about (and for) residents of San Francisco's poor Tenderloin district

Rebecca Zito, Central Market Partnership website, 5/14/12

Cutting Ball Theater's production of TENDERLOIN portrays the lives of residents living in the neighborhood, brings their stories to the stage and challenges audiences to rethink one of San Francisco's most misunderstood neighborhoods. Some of the themes that have emerged are what is a home, how do we deal with the poor as individuals walking through the neighborhood, as churches and social service organizations serving the needy, as a city government who, through concentrating social services in one neighborhood creates "containment zones," and as a country making choices about providing (or not providing) a social safety net? Creating TENDERLOIN was a year-long project commissioned by Cutting Ball and came together through the efforts of Annie Elias, writer/director and a team of actors that took to the streets to get a firsthand account of the lives they portray. The actors conducted approximately 40 interviews ranging from activists, healers, police officers, street cleaners, artists, ex-junkies, immigrants, SRO residents, children, and Tenderloin movers and shakers - and their stories are told to provide an unflinching view of the neighborhood. Cutting Ball Theater is part of the Tenderloin community and has made tremendous efforts to ensure the production is accessible to those that don't normally attend the theater, [offering] free or discounted tickets to Tenderloin residents. Cutting Ball has also arranged dates for students and shelter residents to attend as a group. Additionally, they created "Tenderloin Trail" a fundraising and marketing program that encourages audiences to experience some of the great restaurants in the neighborhood.


Street Symphony brings some of the world's greatest musicians to L.A.'s Skid Row

Zak Stone, Good Culture blog, 5/30/12

Downtown Los Angeles is a neighborhood of extremes. On one end, there's the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Frank Gehry-designed home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Less than 10 blocks away is Skid Row, the nation's largest congregating spot for the homeless, where as many as 50,000 people can be found on the streets on any given night. Robert Gupta, the Philharmonic's first violinist, is hoping to bridge the gap between the two sides by taking "music out of the ivory tower" of the concert hall and bringing it to people who would never hear it otherwise. Gupta created the nonprofit Street Symphony, an ensemble of socially conscious musicians "dedicated to delivering the tremendous therapeutic power of live classical music to mentally ill individuals" in Los Angeles' poorest communities. Gupta came to realize the transformative power of classical music in the lives of the mentally ill while working as the violin instructor for Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic Julliard graduate who landed on Skid Row (and whose life was portrayed by Jamie Foxx in the 2009 film The Soloist). "My challenge has been to go into these places where there is no access to music," Gupta says, recalling how terrified he was the first few times he took music outside of the concert hall. "In these spaces, the music takes on a new meaning." Barriers come down. Veterans who suffer from PTSD and appear "glazed over" begin to connect emotionally with the music. A Street Symphony concert typically consists of performances by a string quartet or sextet, following by an opportunity for audience members to ask the musicians about the music. But often, the musicians are the ones doing the real learning. "Performing for these audiences has taught us why we make music," says Gupta. "It's a human service that allows us to reach a deeply ostracized community."

            > You can watch a short video profile about Street Symphony here.


Photographer brings his artwork to 20 derelict districts around the globe

Mitch Moxley, CNN, 6/3/11

In a slum hidden behind a corrugated wall in downtown Manila, kids play in rubble, addicts pass through a meth house, and the dozen or so families who call this place home get on with their lives -- doing laundry, making meals, playing pool and cards. On a wall that divides the slum from a development next door is a series of photos -- profiles of people from different corners of the globe. They are the work of Kaid Ashton, a 29-year-old Canadian street artist who is making the world's slums his canvas. Growing up, Ashton was enamored by graffiti and cut his guerrilla-artistic teeth tagging trains in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Later, his attention turned to photography, and he has captured images in Iran, Cuba, Burma and elsewhere. Ashton has recently turned his photography into street art, pasting portraits in train yards, slums, back streets and industrial zones in cities including Los Angeles, Toronto, Kaohsiung, Hong Kong and Manila, where he currently teaches art to street kids. He chronicles his teaching efforts on his blog, http://kaidashton.blogspot.com. 


Mobile cinema brings environmental issues to Moscow's urban courtyards

Iconoculture.com, 6/1/12

A mobile movie theatre made of used wooden pallets has been launched by non-profit group On The Way. After its premiere in one of Moscow's courtyards, it's starting to migrate across the city's residential areas. The project is focused on sustainability, not just in form but in content -- all of the documentaries shown relate to environmental issues in urban spaces. However, the mobile theatre is not just about films. Under this umbrella, the non-profit group is also collecting recycled paper on the spot, as well as planning a giant chess set made of recycled materials, to travel along with the screen. It's also planning an even more unusual prop -- a urinal unit with the sign "The courtyard is not a toilet", to attract attention to the problem of urbanites polluting public spaces with human waste. 

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