In response to our CFR on the digital divide, a group from USC proposed a cluster on how to design for social justice. We have been happy to include this special project into our survey as a response to the meta issues raised by our initial survey.
The Leimert Phone Company is a community design project in South Los Angeles. By repurposing payphones, the project seeks to reclaim public space and create cultural portals to local arts, music, and business. South LA is set to change over the next 10 years as planners focus on development around a new subway line through the area. In the face of possible gentrification, how can a community art project deepen neighborhood identity and broaden access to local business? Our collaborative team chose payphones as sites for public intervention and transmedia storytelling tied to justice.
The Leimert Phone team is composed of students from USC and local artists from Leimert Park. Through a 5-week workshop participants formed 3 project groups to develop unique designs. The workshop used rapid-prototyping and playtesting to facilitate lo-fi transmedia designs to share stories and access local music, history, artwork, and business. Each group presented their work on April 6, 2013 to local residents, students, and a panel of expert community organizers. The groups’ presentations included concept videos, detailed design handouts, visual mockups, and a hardware demo. Examples include a phone to play, download, and purchase tickets to local hip-hop acts. Another sent you on a scavenger hunt to local businesses to collect stories and receive discounts. (Check out group videos http://leimertphonecompany.net/week-4-concept-videos/)
I worked with three others to help organize and run the project. The other organizers are Ben Caldwell (Kaos Network multimedia project in Leimert), François Bar (Professor at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab), and Ben Stokes (PhD student at USC AIL). After months of discussion we created a hybrid methodology based on our previous work and drawing from communications, cinema, game design, and community activism. Since we only had 5 weeks, we wanted a balanced system that allowed room for individual expression while rapidly producing group prototypes. The process of dialogue was important to develop relationships between community artists and students. Skill sets and knowledge were shared, as groups worked toward concrete goals and deliverables. The final result was a well tested and collaborative project that empowered participants to create innovative designs to resist gentrification and strengthen the community.