Making stories inside “the bubble”

We’re keeping you in the loop with developments around our new initiative to help makers innovate with live events.

This is the fourth in the occasional series of prompts to stimulate ideas for new approaches to creating work in the physical space of the community. We hope to encourage your efforts by sharing best practices, examples, and point you to some of the inspired producers involved in creating new work on “street platforms” across America. We’ll have more news ahead about AIR’s #LocaloreLive microgrants to support innovative approaches to create new work in the “far corners” of local communities.

We had one goal for KCRW’s Sonic Trace: It had to cross borders.

At first, this meant crossing literal borders, like following a story from the heart of Koreatown in LA, to the highlands of Sierra Juárez in Mexico. But, Angeleno life is made up of imaginary borders too. It is a dystopia segregated by highways, underpasses, strip malls and land masses of cars. At some point, these borders cross you, and LA becomes Tehrangeles, a passport to Persia. Koreatown melts into Southern México and Central America, and Hollywood, the point where Little Armenia and Thai Town meet. There was only one way to execute Sonic Trace with integrity – I had to move into the neighborhood I wanted to cover, embed so to speak. It was important to be someone that immigrants, many undocumented, felt that they could open up to. I became a local and a neighbor, a familiar face as a resident of West Adams, the heart of Oaxacalifornia, USA.

I also wanted a soundbooth, a neutral space of intimacy that would allow for high quality long form interviews.  KCRW on-air host Frances Anderton intervened. “Architects love design competitions,” she said, and suggested we put an on-air call out for a Design Challenge. We invited architects and designers plan a soundbooth around our three foundational questions” ¿Por qué te vas? ¿Por qué te quedas? ¿Por qué regresas? Why do you go? Why do you stay? Why do you return?

Days later, I got this email (paraphrased here):

Driving through LA, listening to KCRW I heard about the Sonic Trace  design challenge. I reflect on your questions on a personal level. Yo soy Hugo Martínez y soy inmigrante. I immigrated to this country illegally at the age of twelve from Michoacan, Mexico. Today, I am a designer, a builder, an architect. I want to help  design a space that captures what it means to be an immigrant. A space that transcends borders, and encapsulates the distorted reality and feelings of displacement of immigrant life.

The email was long and beautifully written, but I ignored it. In fact, I thought Hugo was a little nutty. It turns out, he kind of was. In the the end, we got over two dozen submissions, and the craziest idea was La Burbuja – a metallic sphere that looked like a spaceship. Inside, it was a  hot pink, sound treated oasis with a living room feel. The architect? Hugo Martinez, the dude from the email!

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti with La Burbuja [photo Eric Pearse Chávez]
We launched a Kickstarter campaign, but Hugo’s family began building La Burbujaweeks before the Kickstarter launch. His business partner and wife, Christin To, is also an architect and an immigrant. She designed each piece. His aunt, uncle and cousins executed those designs. As Hugo says, La Burbuja was built by the hands of immigrants to help tell the stories of immigrants.

Many sleepless weeks later, La Burbuja came to life, and we took it to parks, churches, schools, and plazas across town. We gathered over 300 stories from within its pink walls, and this sacred sphere forever changed the way I tell stories. La Burbuja taught me the importance of intimacy. People bared their soul, felt the freedom to journey into far off lands deep in the past, and spread their dreams out into future generations. It was live performance meets therapy and sobremesa (conversations after a meal).

Live installation projects are extremely hard to pull off successfully, but they also give producers a story-making wizardry and craft that carries far beyond format or function. The experience of a live installation is the experience of life itself.

Herehere and here are three of my favorite pieces, gathered inside La Burbuja. This work inspired a weekly Sonic Trace segment on KCRW’s Morning Edition and was the backbone of our project video. For more #LocaloreLive! inspiration, listen to less edited versions here.

Advice for producers and storytellers wanting to go Live? Figure out whose story you’re telling, and get specific. What streets, churches, parks, neighborhoods embody the spirit of the people in those places? Go there, hangout, embed until you feel local. Take notes the entire time. Soon after, the vision for a live storytelling event will find you. Hang on to that vision, and use it as a vehicle to create a living space of connection, intimacy and borderlessness.

There are many challenges to pulling off this work. I am happy to do some hand holding to help you pull off your own crazy idea. You can reach me and @anayansi_dc on Twitter.

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes  is the creator and lead producer for KCRW’s Sonic Trace, a multimedia storytelling project that was part of AIR’s Localore initiative. Currently, she is a reporter and producer for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. She recently moved to the East Bay with her two Angeleno gremlin babes, who were born in the heart of Oaxacalifornia. You can also reach her at

If you know someone who would love these essays, send them to, or tweet #LocaloreLive!