NEXT! Dianne V. Lawrence on wrapping up the hard copy of The Neighborhood News

SEPT21portrait2webFor 13 years, Dianne V. Lawrence has helmed The Neighborhood News, highlighting noteworthy community members, holding local politicians accountable, and bringing important news and historical stories to the eyes of Mid-City/West Adams readers. It’s not been an easy job printing 14,000 copies of the paper every two months for the majority of those years; editing, designing each issue, generating advertisements, reporting, assigning stories, and even at times delivering the paper herself, . But it was one she was meant to do. TNN writer Chelsee Lowe sat down with Dianne at Papa Cristo’s to reflect on her years with the paper, why she's ending the hardcopy, and what’s next for Dianne.

TNN:  How’s Papa Cristo?

Dianne:  It's great to see him again. He's in fine shape.  He was one of my first advertisers and his support in the early years helped me a lot.  I hadn't seen him since the height of Covid-19 because he couldn’t come to work, so it’s great to say hi and “We survived it!” He just said the nicest thing to me. "You know what, I don't think you got enough credit for doing that magazine." And I said, "Well, maybe not, but I'll tell you that people I run into, consistently tell me how much they love it and read it cover to cover." And he said, "And they love you, too." "Well, most of them," I laughed. “There are a few out there who are a bit cranky about me.”

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TNN:  It is a bit of a thankless job to run a community paper.

Dianne: You certainly don’t do something like this for the kudos. I did get thanked in the most important way – the local businesses kept advertising with me. This gave me great freedom to focus on what I felt was important and useful and it also allowed me to leave the magazine without any debt. The support of my ongoing and new advertisers gave me the freedom to take a deep dive into a community I loved and have lived in half my life. It allowed me to help people and I got to meet and become friends with so many different people. I really loved that part. Most importantly, it allowed me to indulge my passion for connecting people with useful information.

TNN:  So are you ready for the next chapter in your life?

Dianne: Pretty much. It was my plan to do the magazine until I was 70, which I turned this summer, then go back to my life as an artist. I knew I would be heading into the last quarter of my life or eighth or whatever and I want to go back to my joyful art-self.  I’ve started writing non-fiction short stories, goodness knows, I have a cornucopia of characters and situations to draw from!

www.diannevlawrencewriter.com

And I’ve already started a new series of paintings.

TNN: Weren’t you a painter to begin with?

Dianne: Yes, for nearly four decades.   

www.diannelawrence.com

www.dianneVlawrenceportraits.com

Dianne V Lawrence Artworks, (Facebook page)


I got to a point where I hit a wall professionally, so when the idea for the magazine became a reality, it was clear I had to give up painting for a while but I knew I would eventually go back to it.


Oct21MaskLast year I coincidently got chosen to paint one of the electrical boxes along Pico Blvd. They assigned the Redondo/Pico box to me. which happened to be on the opposite corner of the storefront art studio I lived in when I first moved to LA in the late 70s so I took it as an omen. My studio was where the furniture shop is now, on the northwest side of Redondo. The mural box is on the northeast side of Redondo. Those four corners were filled with artists in storefronts in the late 70s early 80s. Robert Therrien and Robert Wilhite lived there. Chris Burden was staying with Wilhite and shooting guns into the air in the alley. Slash Magazine was started by Steve Samiof, who lived in the studio next to me. Bob Biggs, who sublet his studio to me, started Slash Records that helped get the early 80s LA punk scene off the ground. Anyway, while working on the murals I realized how much I missed painting and how much it missed me. So I've begun the transition. I’ve already started a new series (symbolic metaphors for political, spiritual and psychological realities) and will take up portraiture again.

TNN:  Did you have a career as a painter?


Dianne: I was part of the art scene here for many years. I'd been in some group shows and a one-person show. I taught at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I taught in their first artists in schools program. I taught art in men and women’s prisons, sponsored by UCLA Artsreach program and LA Theatreworks. I used to drive out to prisons with Lulu Washington, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Tony Abetermarco. I've taught up at Esalen in Big Sur and I taught an elective at Art Center School of Design in Pasadena.  I sold work.  A lot of portrait commissions.  Dan Akroyd commissioned a series of portraits of blues singers for the House of Blues. I did Leonard Cohen’s portrait for his 1979 album "Recent Songs," which got a record design award. I designed his hummingbird logo that he used for the rest of his life. Stuff like that. But as I got older it wasn’t sustaining me financially. Very hard to do. When I started the magazine I got an immediate financial response and was able to grow it so it was like a calling. It had to happen.

TNN: You aren’t nervous about making such a big change and letting go of the magazine?

Dianne:  I've lived my life by getting a very strong feeling to do something and then doing that thing. And I've been very lucky because things tend to work out. Like moving to LA. from Toronto with $500 right into that art studio that cost $350 a month. I've had my own band and I've sung music from the twenties and thirties and was able to play all over LA, first as Bertha D. Blues and the Lost Boys of Jazz then as Storm Taylor and Her Ex-Husbands.  I even sang in Paris once. I discovered late in life that my genetic father was a jazz musician so that explained alot. I wanted to teach and ended up teaching in all these amazing places.  I wanted to do a magazine and it lasted 13 years. I was able to get a law changed making it illegal to tether dogs up in the yard as a lifestyle (it turns out my great-grandfather R.G.L Paige was one of the first black delegates to the Virginia legislature after the Civil War and was always fighting for causes). That took six years. I wanted to train dogs and now have a dog training business.  Someone nicknamed me Tenacious D! Now the strong feeling is to let the magazine go and begin painting and writing my own stories. Also I got a very strong feeling to get involved in Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) and have begun my training. There's a hard rain coming and I want to know how to help.

TNN: Why end the magazine now?

Dianne: There were a lot of signs. I successfully fought off cancer twice in 2020, which took a hit on my energy. But I was lucky in that it coincided with the pandemic that shut everything down, so I had time to heal without the pressure of the magazine, which I had to stop. Nowhere to distribute it.  Today I’m cancer free. Also there has been a change in the kind of community we now live in, with new commercial development, new housing development, out of control homeless issues, new political issues, gentrification with all the good and bad that brings, new representation at City Hall. It’s a different community and I honestly don’t think I have the bandwidth to take it on. The pandemic felt like a timeout and a transition time.  I feel like the magazine fulfilled its purpose.  So yes, I’m taking a leap but it feels right.


TNN: What about the website? It would be a shame to see everything disappear.


Dianne: Don't worry, I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I will keep that going. It won’t be as a content everyday sort of thing, not so labor intensive, but as it is, the website

www.theneighborhoodnewsonline.net

is a historic archive, a snapshot of the Mid-City and West Adams community during a certain transitional period,  it’s history, architecture, the amazing people who have lived here.  We have uploaded every story that appeared in the magazine on our website then we send out links to the stories to our registered readers. Anybody who is new to our area can go there and find out a lot about our community because many of the stories are evergreens (can be read at any time).  And who knows, I might do a special hardcopy edition around election time.  We'll see.

But I do want to keep the website current so I’m looking for people to contribute to it regularly and I’m beginning to find them.  If you are reading this and would like to contribute story ideas, if something happens in your neighborhood, please send it along. Or if you would like to write for us and get an assignment (there will be pay involved) email me

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I’ve been especially proud of having local people contribute stories about things going on in their community.

TNN:  Will you continue to write about and for the community, somehow or somewhere?

Dianne: I'm hoping to focus on interviews that I will upload to our site and I'll likely be able to contribute them to CityWatchLA.  Ken Draper. the editor, is interested and we’ve talked on and off for awhile.  He was inspired to create a Neighborhood Politics category because of The Neighborhood News. CityWatchLA has always been generous in allowing us to post their stories. I will be sharing the pertinent ones on our website.

TNN: Are you worried about the financial hit of shutting down the hard copy?

Dianne: It’s always a bit nerve-wracking making a big change financially, but back in the day I used to do a lot of dog rescue and studied with an amazing trainer.  So at the beginning of the magazine, when I realized I had to supplement my income, I got back into the business of dog training. (www.whatagooddogla.com) I wanted to have my dog training business up and running by the time I left the magazine so I’d have a source of income.  It looks like it’s going to work out that way. I have five-star reviews on Yelp, got a Neighborhood Favorite shout out on Nextdoor and have begun to get consistant calls.  Although a big change is always risky, I’ve learned that if it feels right it works out in some way.

TNN: Did you try and sell the magazine?

Dianne: I tested the waters, but it’s very difficult to sell a business when you are the person who does everything.  I was editor, writer, assigned stories, designed the magazine, developed content, oversaw the distribution.  They would have to hire a variety of people to do all that, so it would not be profitable, and as you know, it’s getting more difficult to get people to put down their phones and pick up a hard copy.

TNN: Now that you aren’t tethered to the magazine will you stay in Mid-City?

Dianne: I have no plans to move. I love where I live.

TNN: What keeps you here in our community?

Dianne: I’ve always favored living in this kind of historic community.  In '79 I moved to LA  from an historic community in Toronto called Cabbagetown, which is now gentrified.  I moved into that storefront art studio on Pico and Redondo. Then I moved to another storefront studio on the corner of Harcourt and Washington. Then I moved to Hollywood for a New York minute and lived in the coach house of one of the first farmhouses in Hollywood. I moved back to this neighborhood because I was friends with Leonard Cohen, and the Zen Center he belonged to was in Kinney Heights. I wanted to get out of Hollywood and I asked if he knew of anything for rent down around here because I knew it would probably be inexpensive. He said, "Darling, you don't want to live here. It's too dangerous." It was pretty sketchy then. But a few years later I ended up moving into their Zen rooming house. Since then I’ve lived in four different rental units within a few blocks of each other.

Gentrification and rising rents got me pushed out as landlords used shenanigans to bypass rent control restrictions in order to get rid of tenants and increase their rents. But the Spirit of the community always stepped in to help. I really got lucky with my current home, which is still in my beloved neighborhood. The landlady is nice and my neighbors are terrific. So, my 40-year history in CD10, along with all the connections I’ve made with incredible people here in the community, makes this my home.

TNN:  Do you have any last words to your readers?

Dianne:   I feel sincerely fortunate to have been given this amazing opportunity to contribute to my community in this deeply satisfying way.  I want to especially thank the readers who picked it up regularly either off their doorstep or from a local spot and, as they often tell me, read it cover to cover. I hope they will keep in touch with their community and subscribe to our website list for updated article notifications. (See end of article for contact info).

I do want to sincerely thank the businesses that kept me in business, especially our ongoing advertisers who have been consistently with us for years - David Raposa, Spirit Early Education, Surfas, Peace Awareness Labyrinth, Real Estate Collective, Delicious Pizza, Print Plus, Bethel Lutheran Church, and Karen Hughes over at DWP. They gave me the freedom to publish the things I thought were important.

I also want to thank the women who stepped forward to assist, provide support, and made ongoing contributions to the paper just when I needed them the most. Carla Pineda, you - Chelsee Lowe, Dawn Kirkpatrick, Laura Meyers, Renee Montgomery,   I want to thank community members Gavin Glynne who was always ready to step in and help when needed and provided a good ear for community talks, Kendal Credi who has helped with online technical tasks and will continue to do so, Chin Thammasaengsri who kept our community up to speed on safety issues, Shannon Vale who has been our proofreader, and Scott McNeely who stepped in at the beginning to help set up my website and show me how to navigate it.  So many others to thank who contributed stories, encouraged me and were willing to discuss issues with me.

Dianne


But I think the most important information I want to leave my readers with is...I have come to see how serious electing your local city representative is, and yet only a small percentage of our community actually shows up to vote.  Did you know that Los Angeles city councilmembers are some of the highest paid politicians in the country? They make $184,610 a year while most members of Congress make $174,000 a year.  Given that information, do you think your representative is earning their salary? Or are they using your goodwill to advance their own ambitions? Are your concerns really their concerns? Do you see real improvements in your community during their time here?  Are your phone calls and emails being responded to?  Does the deputy assigned to your community go out of their way to help or do they do the least amount required?  Please take a hard look at who is running to represent you and vote according to what you come to know about them, not simply name recognition.  Once they are elected, there is not much you can do. We will continue to hold them accountable on our website.

In my opinion there are two kinds of politicians.  Most are a mix of both, with some skewing to one or the other type. One type really likes the power, the glory, and the money, and who in the end, do what they need to do to consolidate power to serve their ambitions. It's not a new story.   A person at City Hall told me that most politicians act like they are rock stars. Then, there are the ones who actually want to make a difference, are accessible and connected to all their constituents, and really want to serve. They make themselves available to All not just favored constituents, through continuous outreach, returned calls and emails, by assigning deputies that work hard to help you, not just phone it in and collect their check. They keep their websites current and informative to your concerns as a community.

Unfortunately, politicians who skew to the first group are more likely to get elected and stay in office usually because they are willing to do whatever it takes to win (including shenanigans) and hold on to the power. They know that people don’t like change and will vote because of familiarity rather than do their homework and find out who they are voting for. Politicians win with the old “Vote for me, go back to tv and let me be.”  Is it any wonder City Hall is mired in so much corruption and has a reputation of being one of the most corrupt (based on the number of lawsuits filed against them)?  But as our community is experiencing, change happens and your informed vote will play a role in whether or not those changes are for better or for worse.

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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