IN PREPARATION FOR THIS YEAR’S OPEN ENGAGEMENT CONFERENCE WE ARE DOING “NOW/LATER” INTERVIEWS WITH SOME OF OUR FAVORITE LA ARTISTS PARTICIPATING IN THIS YEAR’S CONFERENCE. WE’RE ASKING SOME Q’S NOW. AND CHECKING BACK IN WITH ARTISTS AFTER WE ALL GET BACK TO LA.

SIDE STREET PROJECTS: What’s your art practice like right now? (and/or describe any on active projects. OR if your presenting/doing a project at OE please describe that!)

JAMES ROJAS: I am urban planner/artist. I developed an unique social practices that uses art and design as a method to engage, empower, and educate the public about urban planning through self-discovery. The public has untapped knowledge of the built environment that they rarely get to express in traditional community meetings. I scramble people’s perception of their environment by changing their the scale with allows them to be creative and innovative. I use sculpture or physical building activities as my medium because from the dozens of workshops I have facilitated with the public, I know that they have a much easier time expressing their urban planning solutions and challenges through play and imagination, especially where there is no judgment of the ideas produced. By using their bodies and fingers the public is engaged in minutes, they tap knowledge about the urban environment and they concentrate on building the details in their life that matter. Collectively they share their personal stories, they learn how to work together through building to solve urban problems.

SSP: Which projects/speakers/conversations are you looking forward to at this year’s Open Engagement?

JR: Wow, there are many interesting panels and discussions going on but my interested in Open Engagement is that I am actually facilitating workshops for the New York Health Department’s FitCity 9: Promoting Physical Activity Through Design. As an artist this is a great opportunity for me to make structural change on how we build cities and help people examine how design of the built environment can create opportunities for increasing physical activity and access to healthier food and beverages and help to improve health equity across neighborhoods. The program brings together architects, planners, designers, landscape architects, developers, public health professionals, and community residents and leaders to discuss how design, policy, and practice decisions can address the key health epidemics of our time: obesity and related chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and asthma.

NYC’s New Mayor has made some great appointments that encourage social justice and innovative ideas. It’s a great time to be in NYC!

SSP: As socially engaged artists in LA, what specific conversations to you think our communities need to be having? (ie specific issues of best practices/social justice issues, etc)

JR: As a socially engaged artists in LA we need break out of silo and start making structural change in the city by using art as a communication tool. In LA there is a vacuum or lack of communication between people and government. LA has gotten to big to think big. We are breaking down and . do small things well but can’t tackle the big issues facing our city because everybody is so disjointed physically, socially, and culturally. We have beauracay that is out of touch with the people and we lack strong leadership. Our community meetings are all ways a street fight. Angelenos don’t care and therefore we have the lowest voter turnouts and some of the most corrupt elects. As artists we have the power to make Angelenos care about their city.

Websites: placeit.com