John Malpede

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2013

Los Angeles, CA

John Malpede directs, performs, and engineers multi-event projects that have theatrical, installation, public art, and education components. In 1985, he founded the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), a performance group comprised primarily of homeless and formerly homeless people who make art, live, and work on Skid Row. Beyond L.A., he has produced projects working with communities throughout the U.S., as well as the UK, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Bolivia. His 2004 work RFK in EKY sought to re-create Robert Kennedy’s 1968 “war on poverty” tour in the course of a four-day, 200-mile series of events focused on historic and current issues and social policy. As a 2008 fellow at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Malpede developed Bright Futures in response to the financial crisis. He has received grants, with LAPD, from MAP Fund, NEFA National Theater Project (2013), and a Creative Capital Award (2009). In 2014, the work of LAPD will be the subject of a large retrospective exhibition at the Queens Museum of Art.

  • Photo Credit: Cristina Lopez
    Agentes y Activos (2009)
  • Photo Credit: Austin Hines
    Walk the Talk (2012)
  • John Malpede- State of Incarceration (2011) :
    State of Incarceration (2011)
  • UTOPIA/ dystopia (2007)
  • Photo Credit: Patrice Inbert
    RED BEARD / RED BEARD (2008)
  • RFK in EKY (2004)

What are the creative challenges you face as an artist?

Two creative challengers are “So what?” And “Who cares?” Confronted by these two tough guys, I try to contextualize and strategically locate what I do. I try to find the place where my concerns meet the concerns of the place and people I’m engaging. “So what?” and “Who cares?” The human interactions that take place in the process of making work temporarily dispel these questions. The best ideas are ones that turn out to be good because they resonate in the chosen location and context. When that happens, like most bullies, “So what?” and “Who cares?” make themselves scarce. They disappear.