The New Compassionate Downtown

Directed by John Malpede and Henriëtte Brouwers

May 14, and 15, 2021 at 8PM.
At Geffen Contemporary at MOCA plaza
152 N Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
for a by invitation only, physically distanced audience

& on YouTube Live stream
Creating the Compassionate City
– conversation with Karen Mack, LA Commons; Charles Porter, UCEPP and Jeremy Liu, PolicyLink 
May 6:
The NCD Performances:
May 14:
May 15:

Commissioned by The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) for WE RISE 2021

Visual Art by Robby Herbst

About the Project

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.

Public Conversations - Creating the Compassionate City

Creating the Compassionate City is 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.

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.

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