The New Compassionate Downtown
Directed by John Malpede and Henriëtte Brouwers

May 14, and 15, 2021 and on YouTube Live stream
At Geffen Contemporary at MOCA plaza for a live audience.
Commissioned by The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) for WE RISE 2021

November 4, 2021: 6-9pm
The We in Me: Embodying Empathy

The Box parking lot
The We in Me is homeLA’s pilot education program that considers homelessness through the lens of empathy.
Embodying Empathy showcases a two-story model home from artist Corazón del Sol’s low-income housing project, Jardin de Estrellas. The evening’s programming includes performance excerpts form LAPD’s The New Compassionate Downtown; an embodied practice led by Jay Carlon; a conversation between Corazón, Jay, Pastor Cue–founder of the “Church Without Walls” –and the audience, facilitated by Bernard Brown; and music by Cubano Percussion.

Community Conversations
* May 6 – webinar: Creating the Compassionate City – with Karen Mack, LA Commons; Charles Porter, UCEPP and Jeremy Liu, PolicyLink, moderated by John Malpede.
* July 1: the BOX parking lot, and streaming on FaceBook live: Compassion and Self-Deception – with Robby Herbst, creater of the Compassion and Self-Deception Guide; Aryen Cohen, Rabbi, activist and scholar and Matt Harper, LA Catholic Worker. Moderated by Michael Alexander, professor of Jewish Studies.
* November 20, Gladys Park: Creating a Compassionate Community – with Soma Snakeoil, Sidewalk Project; Monique Noel, LA CAN; Natosha Smith, Skid Row resident and advocate, currently in Project RoomKey and Silvia Hernandez, DWAC.  Moderated by Cathy Gudys, professor of public history, UCR.

Compassion and Self-Deception
Llano Del Rio Collective’s new guide to LA’s Moral Crisis
Visual Art by Robby Herbst

Download the GUIDE
Available for pick up at the Skid Row History Museum & Archive
More info at
To order a free print copy of the guide, just send your postal address to Robby Herbst/Llano Del Rio at [email protected]

About the Project - Compassion and Self-Deception

Downtown LA has long been marketed as a night-life destination. Los Angeles Poverty Department’s “The New Compassionate Downtown,” dares to imagine alternative marketing that draws people to live in Downtown who value the wisdom and compassionate practice exemplified by Skid Row workers and residents:

“Here is a place you can live guilt- and resentment free. No longer will the subterranean guilt of ignoring privilege haunt you and through psychological displacement manifest itself as anger.”

Work on the performance began pre-pandemic and explores themes that have gained resonance in the past year. The performance is set at a meeting of The New Compassionate Downtown, an heterogenous group of people living and working in all parts of Downtown, who embrace building a community of compassion. The performance cuts from the meeting to scenes that concretely explore compassion, in action, as life unfolds daily. The performance will be staged in a socially distant manner by a cast of eleven Los Angeles Poverty Department performers and a socially distanced audience on the MOCA Geffen Plaza and it will be live streamed. “The New Compassionate Downtown,” was devised in LA Poverty Department workshops live (pre-pandemic) and then on Zoom. All the cast members have contributed to the script. The performance is directed by John Malpede & Henriëtte Brouwers. Los Angeles Poverty Department is a performance group of people who live and work in Skid Row.

Building the Project

“Compassion and Self -Deception” is a multidisciplinary art project interrogating compassion and conflicted responses to homelessness in the city of LA, right now.

Working with LAPD in the context of this multi-disciplinary project visual artist Robby Herbst (Llano Del Rio Collective) developed two simultaneous “guides” to Los Angeles together known as a “Socio-Emp-athic Guide To LA”. One guide explores the cartography of cruelty in Los Angeles, and the other explores the cartography of compassion. These guides will be distributed throughout the city via Llano Del Rio’s distribution network.

The “guides” map sites of cruelty and sites of compassion in Los Angeles as experienced by its un-housed population in particular. The guides site instances of the city’s built architecture and features, its policy, and social practices of the city’s inhabitants. The guides also illustrate (formally) the processes of compassion, and the process of empathy, and function as a behavioral guide spanning the spectrum of human emotions. The guides’ content was developed through a collaborative research project engaging Skid Row residents and support services. Research was conducted in both the physical city, as well as the emotional city.

The performance is presented by MOCA as part of ART RISE, which is a project of We Rise LA.

Community Conversations

Creating the Compassionate City, 5/6/2021

Creating the Compassionate City
Moderated by John Malpede, with Karen Mack, LA Commons; Charles Porter, UCEPP and Jeremy Liu, PolicyLink
A conversation among arts and social change practitioners produced in conjunction with Los Angeles Poverty Department’s Art Rise performance curated by MOCA.

LA Poverty Department’s performance, “The New Compassionate Downtown” imagines an inclusive downtown, that people are proud to be a part of because of the ethos and practices of concern for the well-being of everyone and a commitment to prevent and alleviate the suffering of everyone.

While this seems to fly in the face of a reality distinguished by gross inequities, there are innumerable people in communities throughout the city who have been working for decades to embrace the generative capacities of every single Angelino in order to realize a City everyone can be proud to be a part of. This webinar is a conversation among three deeply committed and experienced arts and social change practitioners: Karen Mack, Charles Porter and Jeremy Liu. The conversation will be introduced by MOCA Curator Rebecca Lowery and moderated by John Malpede of Los Angeles Poverty Department.

Panelist Bios

Karen Mack is the founding director of LA Commons. Karen holds a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University where she studied the role of culture in community building. LA Commons leverages art and cultural approaches to create positive change. LA Commons projects are motivated by the belief that all communities possess local knowledge and local assets, that ordinary people have the power to meet the challenges facing their neighborhoods, through their sense of connectedness with place and each other. And that culture is an essential community resource for elevating these assets and affecting change.

Charles Porter has worked for 20-plus years in Skid Row with United Coalition East Prevention Project to challenge systemic conditions and social disparities that threaten a healthy environment.  Charles, a poet and drummer, with deep understanding of Pan-African artistic and healing traditions, believes in the power of culture to build communities.  Time and again he has worked with a coalition of residents to identify and bring about needed change. The Skid Row Improvement Coalition collectively envisioned a neighborhood hygiene center, The ReFresh Spot, that was realized with the support of the city, and that now serves over 1,000 residents a day, providing showers, and laundry facilities as well as 24-hour bathroom access.  And it employs a Skid Row resident staff.

Jeremy Liu, artist and social impact strategist, with a successful track record of developing “Community Benefits by Design” real estate projects will join the conversation from Oakland.  As the Senior Fellow for Arts, Culture and Equitable Development at PolicyLink, Jeremy has shaped and is guiding an initiative that integrates arts and culture into the work of equitable development. His art projects include the National Bitter Melon Council (with collaborator Hiroko Kikuchi).  He has performed, practiced and exhibited in neighborhoods and museums around the country.

Creating a Compassionate Community: Engaged Women in Skid Row, 11/20/202

In General Jeff Memorial Park (corner 6th St. & Gladys)
With Soma Snakeoil, Monique Noel, Natosha Smith, Silvia Hernandez and moderated by Cathy Gudis.

Soma, Monique, Silvia and Natosha came together with other engaged women in Skid Row to write a letter and submitted an Amicus Brief in response to the lawsuit against the City and County of Los Angeles brought by the LA Alliance for Human Rights. The women elaborated on the concerns that motivated their Amicus Brief: the lawsuit’s misrepresentation of the Skid Row community and its history, intended to displace Skid Row community members and disappear Skid Row.

Panelists addressed 41.18, sweeps, Project Room Key, the takeover of public space and the significance of the historical boundaries of Skid Row. We invite all Skid Row residents, service organizations and officials to join in this conversation.

Los Angeles Poverty Department performed excerpts from their performance The New Compassionate Downtown.

Panelist bios

Cathy Gudis is a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, a longtime participant in Los Angeles Poverty Department projects, and a scholar-in-residence at the Skid Row History Museum & Archive. She is interested in how we can activate Skid Row community history to generate current-day social justice.

Soma Snakeoil is Executive Director of The Sidewalk Project, a street-based harm reduction organization with chapters in 5 cities, including a mobile SSP in Skid Row. She is an artist, activist, Dominatrix and playwright. Soma’s passion for the houseless community comes from lived experience as a long-term former PWUD, being unhoused, and almost 18 years of the spectrum of sex work, including survival sex.

Monique Noel leads on Women’s Justice and is Director of Development & Special Projects at the Los Angeles Community Network (LACAN). She is a Womanist, Pan Africanist, activist, organizer and Doula connected with various national and international causes advancing social justice. Monique has a background in international human rights law, is part of the Black Migrant Legal Support Network in Los Angeles and is a Board member of BAJI. In supporting women in their power Monique organizes healing and empowerment activities for women of color.

Josie Mattson* has been a registered nurse and public health nurse for 14 years and has spent the last 6 years working in Skid Row, doing outreach and direct patient care. She focuses on adapting the delivery of healthcare services to meet the needs of the population served. She follows principles of harm reduction, trauma informed care, and stigma elimination in her work. * Josie couldn’t attend this panel and was replaced by Silvia Hernandez, DWAC member.

Natosha Smith is a visual artist who enjoys painting murals. A native to Los Angeles who spends her free time fighting for human civil rights, women’s equality, freedom, and justice for all. She is an active member of LA Poverty Department, DWAC and a LACAN freedom singer. A poetess, designer, activist, and organizer who is proud to use her artistry as a tool to fight against oppression.

Compassion & Self-Deception , 7/1/2021

In the Box Gallery’s Parking Lot

With: *Pastor Cue Jn-Marie, Aryen Cohen, Matt Harper, Robby Herbst and moderated by Michael Alexander.
* Unfortunately Pastor Cue Jn-Marie was unable to participate in this conversation.

LAPD’s project Compassion & Self-Deception takes on the mind-boggling contradictions of a city (ours) that votes to create housing for homeless people –and then doesn’t want any of it built anywhere near them: whether that be permanent housing, or temporary housing.

LAPD invited visual artist Robby Herbst to help unravel the situation and he has produced the twelve-page broadsheet exploring the socio-emotional impact of Los Angeles’ housing catastrophe: “Compassion and Self Deception: A Guide To Los Angeles’ Moral Crisis.”

In developing the guide, Herbst engaged three deeply spiritual, social activists: Pastor Stephe “Cue” Jn-Marie is the founder of Skid Row’s Church Without Walls, Matt Harper of the LA Catholic Worker community, and Los Angeles based activist, rabbi, and scholar, Aryen Cohen.  All three contributed their thoughts to the Guide.  And you can get your Guide at the event.

The July 1 conversation, moderated by UCR Professor of religious studies, Michael Scott Alexander, will be an opportunity dialogue further about the moral crises, and contradiction induced stasis —what perpetuates it and how to undo it. Cue, Matt, Aryen, Robby and Michael will come together —for real / en persona – to dialogue around the questions:

“How Should an Angelino React to the Suffering They Encounter on a Daily Basis?”  
How can we understand Los Angeles – a living contradiction.  A place where some people put care for the civic body above all else, while others, in the words of Curtis Mayfield, “would hurt all mankind just to save his own.”

Panelist Bios

Michael Scott Alexander is a professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside where he holds the Maimonides Chair in Jewish Studies.  He is the author of the recently published, Making Peace with the Universe, and Jazz Age Jews.

Aryen Cohen is a Los Angeles based activist, rabbi, and scholar.  He’s involved with the American Jewish University, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action SoCal, and Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE).  He is the author of Justice in the City.  The book is an attempt to frame the obligations for a just and equitable city within the rabbinical textual traditions of the Talmud.

Matt Harper is part of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker community, which spends its time comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.  Matt helps run the CW soup kitchen, is an editor of the CW paper, The Catholic Agitator, and supports CW resistance efforts.  Matt is also an organizer with White People 4 Black Lives, and the Showing Up for Racial Justice affiliate in Los Angeles.

Robby Herbst is known for his idiosyncratic artworks and publications, including his socio-economic-psychological mappings of life in Los Angeles.  Herbst has created a new “guide”, Compassion and Self-Deception; A Guide To Los Angeles’ Moral Crisis, published by LAPD and Herbst’s Llano del Rio Collective and now in distribution.

Pastor Stephe “Cue” Jn-Marie is the founder of Skid Row’s Church Without Walls, which gathers each Friday night outdoors on the corner of Wall and Winston Streets.  He is also an organizer with CLUE, Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice.

About The Box & LAPD: LAPD and The Box go way back to the first iteration of the “The Skid Row History Museum” in 2008, an exhibition and series of performances and talks co-curated by LAPD with The Box Principal/Curator Mara McCarthy.  The flexible mind and body of The Box has continued to provide LAPD the space and resources to make and develop work, including an installation of our 60 prison bunk beds for State of Incarceration (2010).  During the month the beds were installed at The Box, we were able to complete the eponymous performance—figuring out how to make it work on, in and between the rows of beds.  And just this spring, we utilized The Box parking lot to once again figure out how to get off of Zoom and realize our performance, “The New Compassionate Downtown” in actual physical space.

The Cast

Stephanie Bell, Iron Donato, Tom Grode, Leyla Martinez, Lee Maupin, Matt Miyahara, Lorraine Morland, Clarence Powell, Dianne Prozeller, Anthony “ToneTone” Taylor, Maya Waterman.

Project Funders

This project is funded by the Mike Kelly Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts – Theater, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Goethe-Institut, LA County Department of Arts and Culture, California Humanities and MOCA-Geffen, with additional support from The Box Gallery.

Our community conversations are made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit

This work is part of Art Rise, a series of over fifteen outdoor art installations in and around Downtown Los Angeles, commissioned especially for WE RISE—an initiative of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health that encourages wellbeing and healing through art, connection, community engagement, and creative expression. For more information and to see a complete Art Rise map, please visit