September 30, 2022
Public Health Media
Los Angeles County Residents Recount Stories of Violence, Hope, and Healing
Landmark project spotlights the effects of violence on a diverse group of participants
Starting in the Fall of 2020, the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture and the Los Angeles County Office of Violence Prevention housed in the Department of Public Health embarked on a landmark project to record the intensely personal stories of a diverse group of residents whose lives have been directly affected by violence.
For more than a year, Olga Koumoundouros, Department of Arts and Culture Creative Strategist-Artist in Residence with the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) enlisted the help of community-based organizations and individuals to identify people willing to share their stories. A total of 100 people from all over Los Angeles County reflecting diverse perspectives spoke in blunt, unsparing language about the terrible physical and psychological toll that violence inflicts on individuals and families.
A selection of these intimate stories – along with photographic portraits of many of the contributors – have now been published in a book, Violence, Hope and Healing in Los Angeles County, which is now available at County libraries and other designated locations. A digital copy of the book along with the remaining stories will be published on the Department of Arts and Culture and the OVP websites.
“I truly hope that by sharing my story,” said Mildred Brown, a participant who experienced years of physical, sexual, and verbal assault, “it will help that fellow person gain confidence, and to know that you are not alone.”
“I am so proud of this cross-sector collaboration between our Department of Arts and Culture and the Office of Violence Prevention,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Holly J. Mitchell. “Thank you to everyone who courageously shared their stories with us. We do not take this brave offering lightly. This project provides policy makers and our communities with the opportunity to learn from the real lived experience behind every story shared, so that we can create stronger systems for prevention and care.”
“The intersection of violence prevention and arts equals healing for survivors and our communities,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, First District. “I thank Olga for developing a way to gather and uplift the stories of survivors from throughout the County who have experienced harm in a cathartic manner. And to the survivors that came forward to be a part of this project, you are incredibly brave. Sharing a time when you experienced vulnerability and fear and turning that into an inspiring message of justice, hope, and healing is a lesson from which we can all benefit and carry with us.”
“I am so grateful to the extraordinary residents who shared their heartache, bravery and hope with us and thank the Department of Arts and Culture for their partnership on this project,,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Department of Public Health. “These stories communicate the devastating impact of violence on residents from across Los Angeles County, while providing us with a blueprint for how our community can heal and stop the cycle of brutality.”
“The Department of Arts and Culture’s Creative Strategist program places artists, arts administrators, and other creative workers in County departments to develop and implement artist-driven solutions to complex social challenges. We know that artists have an extraordinary power to humanize the data behind policymaking and help us step into another person’s story, as well as provide opportunities for creative healing and community building in meaningful ways. This courageous book is a result of that lens. It reflects the kind of inclusion and representation that comes when County departments enact a cross-sector approach to service,” said Kristin Sakoda, Director, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.
‘The strength of this project lies in how it has and is stretching institutional procedural practices so that they can center human voices as they are articulated and expressed,” said Koumoundouros, “so that the established avenue of communication is strengthened not just utilized once but finds a way into the fold of priorities that forms the backbone of community inclusive violence prevention work” “It creates a formality of listening further and a bit more deeply so the details within the high stakes work of violence prevention can be more effectively heard via ongoing connection and trust with our communities most effected.”
“We wanted to hear directly from violence survivors to understand the extent and effect of violence on the lives of our friends, our neighbors, and our communities,” said Andrea Welsing, director of the Los Angeles County Office of Violence Prevention.
Welsing noted that the stories offer compelling evidence of the ways in which racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty, addiction, and systemic failures have helped to perpetuate a culture of violence across communities. In some of the stories recounted here, people caught up in a seemingly endless cycle of violence became violent themselves.
Still, the message is not all grim. “At the same time, these stories confirm that violence is often predictable and preventable, and highlight how we can support prevention and healing,” added Welsing. She said that the OVP will use these stories to guide practices and programs moving forward.
The Creative Strategist-Artist in Residence Program was a LA County Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative recommendation that the Board of Supervisors, in a motion authored by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, funded in 2017. Since its inception, the program has explored how arts-based strategies can be used to solve complex civic challenges and make government more equitable. Arts and Culture pairs a creative strategist with a County department to bring arts-based thinking, methodologies, projects, and approaches to address an issue of equity in partnership with staff. As it advances the cross-sector role of the arts; inter-departmental collaboration; and diversity, equity, and inclusion, the program supports the goals of the Countywide Cultural Policy, which calls for LA County and all its departments to ensure every resident has meaningful access to arts and culture.
About the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture The mission of the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture is to advance arts, culture, and creativity throughout Los Angeles County. It provides leadership, services, and support in areas including grants and technical assistance for nonprofit organizations, countywide arts education initiatives, commissioning and care for civic art collections, research and evaluation, access to creative career pathways, professional development, free community programs, and cross-sector creative strategies that address civic issues. Visit LACountyArts.org, and learn more about the Creative Strategist Program at lacountyarts.org/CreativeStrategist