ICA LA | In The Community, For The Community

The LA museum hosts its first Narcan training workshop to combat drug overdoses.

Written by

Sofia Ziman

Photographed by

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Images Courtesy Sofia Ziman

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), is known for its world-class contemporary art exhibition calendar, and its active engagement with the Downtown Los Angeles community, functioning as a sanctuary for education, and addressing needs of the wider community. In response to the escalating fentanyl crisis in Los Angeles, the museum recently organized an internal Narcan training event on June 27th. Naloxone (Narcan) is a medicine that can save the life of someone overdosing on an opioid, including medications, heroin, and fentanyl. With Narcan slated to be available over-the-counter by Fall 2023, ICA LA staff, board, and council members were invited to participate in a short internal training session in which they learned how to safely administer this life-saving drug. Asuka Hisa, the Director of Learning and Engagement at ICA LA, emphasizes that,  "An art museum today is not about being a closed box of precious things, it is about being a center for community. We exist for the sake of art and people."

The gravity of the situation was underscored by Robin Keller and her husband John Sicher, co-founders of The Zoe's Story Fund, a charitable organization named after their late daughter. Their personal connection to the issue, combined with the fund's mission to educate the public on preventing and reversing drug overdoses, lent heartfelt significance to the occasion. The information session was led by UCLA medical doctors, Dr. Brian Hurley MD, MBA, DFASAM, (Substance Abuse Prevention and Control) and Dr. Kumar Vasudevan MD, (Internal Medicine.) The experts shed light on the proper usage of Narcan Nasal Spray, providing insights into the scientific aspects of drug overdose prevention. They are not naive to the normalcy of drug use, so took it upon themselves to properly educate their audience on the honest truths and dangers of this epidemic. They emphasized the importance of erring on the side of caution, it is a matter of life and death. As the organizers emphasized, administering the dose doesn't have serious side effects, even if the receiver has not taken opioids. Following the tutorial and information session, a Q&A session allowed attendees to engage in a dialogue encompassing various topics, such as street drugs, non-fentanyl related overdoses, overdose reversal techniques, drug testing strips, local resources and community involvement. 

Asuka explains the thought process behind the event, stating, "We pondered whether this could be a public event and training. To gauge the feasibility of opening our doors for a larger-scale event, we decided to host a private event initially. And the answer is absolutely yes, we should and can make this a public event.”

In addition to this recent event, ICA LA consistently welcomes the public through its doors for a diverse range of programming, community outreach initiatives, and educational events for all ages. During the last election, the museum's multipurpose space was transformed into a voting center, providing an environment conducive to civic engagement and cultural exploration. Committed to education and social change, the museum has previously undertaken special programming focused on elections and the significance of voting. Asuka excitedly shares that ICA LA has once again registered to be a voting center, eagerly anticipating the revival of the magical experience that transpired in the past.

Moreover, ICA LA actively engages with the community through various initiatives, including community tours. Notably, the museum has established a fruitful partnership with the Skid Row Running Club, a group that uses the power of running to improve the lives of those who are who are unhoused, formerly unhoused, and/or recovering from addiction. This inspiring organization, founded by Craig Mitchell, a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles County –and an avid marathoner– seeks to understand the challenges faced by the community and make a positive impact. Asuka explains, "Instead of running away, Judge Mitchell runs straight into the community he serves. He seeks to comprehend this reality and explore ways to effect change. Beginning with a small group, he now involves hundreds of people. Skid Row is part of Downtown Los Angeles; we witness the housing crisis  every day, and we cannot simply turn a blind eye. While we — the art museum— may not be able to provide a definitive solution due to the enormity of the crisis, encountering something as uplifting as the Skid Row Running Club compels us to inquire about collaboration and mutual support." ICA LA has become a destination for the runners, opening their doors at 6am to welcomemembers with donuts, coffee and a special tour of their exhibitions which rotate three times per year.

ICA LA is currently home to temporary exhibitions— Trương Công Tùng, Carmen Argote: I won’t abandon you, I see you, we are safe, Alberta Whittle: between a whisper and a cry, and Christine Sun Kim’s outdoor project Bounce Back. All of the aforementioned are set to run onsite through September 10th, 2023. Current, and past exhibitions can also be viewed virtually with Virtual ICA LA.

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ICA LA, Zoe's Story Fund, Narcan Training, Skid Row Running Club, Sofia Ziman