Homelessness rarely comes to mind in visions of Los Angeles—it’s far easier to dream of days and days of endless summer and maybe a Hollywood star or two. But in the ten short miles Alison Miller travels from her work in Beverly Hills to her home in Downtown LA, she passes from extreme affluence to an area that houses the largest homeless population in the country.
Her answer? Art. Through her new publication Frank LA, Miller has galvanized Los Angeles’ contemporary art culture to raise awareness and money for the city’s homeless. With the project, she ultimately hopes to expand her focus and foster other “frank” discussions on key issues facing her city, using art as conduit for engagement.
As a serial entrepreneur and group publisher of the luxury magazine group Niche Media, Alison Miller is uniquely situated to use art for social change, standing at the intersection of LA’s art, fashion, and pop culture scenes. Passionate about the city’s cultural assets, she is a member of MOCA’s Director’s Council and is an enthusiastic advocate for institutional, educational, commercial and non-profit arts initiatives. Read insights she’s shared with IVY Magazine and learn how she’s used the power of local art to save some of her city’s homeless.
Artist Credit: Anna Sew Hoy
IVY: Why is it so important for the millennial generation to connect with art?
More than any other generation, millennials leverage art for self-expression and personalization. Social media platforms are nothing if not personal exhibitions that have been individually created, curated, and presented by the user. Art that millennials share and post on these platforms crosses boundaries, intersecting with fashion, music, and entertainment. As “artists”, they no longer define themselves by a single genre—think James Franco or Pharrell Williams.
All of this personalization is available almost instantaneously. The speed at which we can now document, remix, and share is incredible, often catalyzing social awareness, education, and change. This cultural shift toward immediate access is rarely matched by institutional organizations and museums in brick-and-mortar buildings. For the socially-conscious millennial, art and these contemporary, immediate tools for presenting art offer a new perfect medium to spread a message.
We’ve explored this theme with our mission at Frank LA. In our first issue, examining homelessness in Los Angeles, we knew that we didn’t want to present the topic in a cliché manner: grungy images of bare feet, sad faces, and hand-lettered cardboard signs. So, we created a framework for artists to respond to this challenge. In doing so, we engaged an audience interested in art , hoping they would turn toward, rather than away from the topic. By leveraging art as the initial reason to engage, we then introduced the social component on the back-end after the reader was already involved in the work.
IVY: What inspired you to launch Frank LA? What was the biggest challenge you faced along the way, and how did you over come it?
I love this city beyond words, including all of its quirks and foibles. As a luxury lifestyle magazine publisher by day, I am typically involved in good news reporting. Having that kind of platform to celebrate this amazing city is hugely fulfilling, but there are other topics that I wanted to tackle as well. In order to do that, I sought a platform unconstrained by the needs of advertisers.
As a huge proponent of the arts, I’ve always been inspired by the vast population of talented Los Angeles-based artists. As the new “it” capitol of the art world, I thought LA would provide a platform for artists that respond to topics singularly unique to the city, while also providing a fresh method for distributing art at the same time. Ultimately, having the freedom to engage in a frank conversation about our city, to educate, to address, and to impact social change, while wrapped in an artistic package was a creative’s dream role—seriously.
The binding thread is and will always be candor. We want to spark an honest conversation about our city and its social issues. We’re looking for topics that are tongue-in-cheek and sometimes fun, but always unfiltered.
Frank LA’s willingness to tackle taboo subjects makes our mission challenging. Our inaugural issue, “No Place Like Home,” confronts the dichotomy between homelessness and wealth. I work in Beverly Hills, the most affluent shopping district on the West Coast, and drive home to Downtown LA each evening, where the largest homeless population in the country currently resides. My journey, less than 10 miles door-to-door, represents two extremes that should not exist together in a single city.
Before we decided on homelessness as our focus, I shopped the concept for the first issue for more than a year. Few investors, sponsors, publicists, and people in the media wanted to be involved in the subject, and even fewer were willing to associate their brand with it. Nobody wanted to look at it, but that was exactly the point. It’s what drove us even harder to keep pushing until we found a few brave souls who would help us shine a light and ignite the discussion.
I was fortunate enough to engage people like my business partner Cindy Troesh, a renowned developer committed to impacting the community in a positive manner, and my co-founder Patrick Gill, who went deep into the trenches with me in war-like conditions, facing everything Skid Row could throw at us throughout the production of the issue.
IVY: What are the biggest changes taking place in contemporary art at the moment?
In LA, the art scene is on fire—plain and simple. We’ve always enjoyed pedigreed arts institutions here, but the increase of museums, galleries, and art fairs is dizzying, in the most exciting way.
In terms of a more global arts discussion, I have to say that the intellectual property rights of artists have reached new levels of complexity. The argument for what an artist owns or doesn’t own is less defined than ever, especially in a public forum such as social media. Consider the recent debate over the Instagram-based works by visual artist Richard Prince. Was it appropriation or theft?
Intellectual property rights are up for interpretation—just ask street artist Maya Hayuk, who has filed a lawsuit against Starbucks for using images derived from her art in ad campaigns and cups without her permission or remuneration. When it’s so easy to cut and paste, how do artists hang on to—and more importantly—enforce their ownership rights?
IVY: What is it that draws you to a certain artist?
A good story. Context is everything. A single line on a piece of paper can become the most interesting thing in the world, if you understand its intent and inspiration. Without context, it’s just a line, and there may be a more interesting one on the next page. The same goes for people!
IVY: What is your most audacious life goal?
Since I live in a city that worships youth, I’d have to say it’s not to not be defined by age. Younger generations are wiser than the last, and older generations are much hipper and informed than their predecessors. There’s been a blending of values and experiences that have shed age-based standards and socialization, and I hope it continues.
At the end of the day, we all just want to be relevant and to contribute in a meaningful way without biases based on a number.
IVY: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Things worth having are never easy.
IVY: How can the IVY Community help support you?
Subscribe, of course! By doing so, you will allow us to continue bringing candid conversations to life through our unconventional platform. Similarly, if our topics speak to you, become involved, even in a small ways.
At the close of our first issue, we produced a bullet point list of ways that legislation can help those experiencing homelessness. Through the generous donation of our collaboration artists, we are auctioning the original works of art that were published in the first issue to benefit Lamp Community, the largest homeless services provider in Skid Row. If you saw the film “The Soloist”, you know Lamp is the amazing group that ultimately convinced bassist Nathaniel Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx) to leave the streets and move into supportive housing. Join us in supporting Lamp, who helped so many others like Nathaniel Ayers, by participating in this auction, which closes at 11:00 am PST July 24,2015. Check out the link here!
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