We sat down with programming staff members Ilaan Mazzini and Jennifer Fukutomi-Jones and asked them to give us the inside scoop on the work they do with the Ford’s public engagement programs (like, what is public engagement anyway?):
What does the term “public engagement” mean to the Ford?
Ilaan Mazzini: It’s giving our audience more choice in how they can participate with the performing arts – beyond just being spectators. It’s also a mutual exchange: less giving and taking and more sharing.
Besides JAM Sessions, what are some other ways the Ford practices public engagement?
IM: In thinking about the Ford as a County park and about how we have underutilized spaces, like the plaza and entryway gardens, we created Find Your Space. For this program, we open up our plaza spaces to anybody who wants to organize a gathering around the practicing of an art form. We give the space for free but require that the events be free and open to the public. This last year we had everything from African folklore embroidery and board game design to play readings and Americana folk songs. We want to expand on that for 2016, especially as the Ford will have a new plaza space when we reopen.
Why are these kinds of participatory programs so important?
IM: Everybody has a different comfort level. Some people want to try everything and some people want to sit and watch. If we can customize or respond in a way that makes more people feel comfortable participating in the arts, that to me would be successful. Our goal is to create a way for everyone to tap into their creative spirit.
Jennifer Fukutomi-Jones: In LA, there are so many different cultures. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to understand even just a little bit more about each other.
Have you had any memorable or unexpected moments at a past JAM Session?
JFJ: There is this incredible intergenerational connection that happens at JAMs. We had a square dancing JAM at the Ford and there were a bunch of little kids who were not participating. And then different adults in the JAM started helping guide the kids. Suddenly the whole group was in synch. It was a beautiful moment of community.
IM: There’s a lot of handholding in square dancing and facing each other and turning, so you’re constantly rotating who your partner is. It was amazing to watch how over time the adults were helping these kids, so that they could equally participate.
What are the Ford’s future public engagement plans?
IM: We’re really looking beyond what we deem our “engagement programs.” We now see everything as an opportunity to have an exchange, to listen and to provide different levels of participation.
Interested in engaging further? The video below documents some of the Ford’s public engagement programs and their impact all over LA County!