Public Matters is a creative studio for civic engagement.


Founded in 2007, it is an award winning, Los Angeles-based social enterprise. We advise clients and partners on proactive education and engagement strategies that transform the culture, practice, and experience of civic participation in communities of color. These strategies aim to address the trust gap between institutions and agencies and historically marginalized neighborhoods and communities.


Public Matters’ work cultivates reciprocity and accountability in order to foster a collective sense of ownership.

“Public Matters encompasses the true meaning of community empowerment and advocacy…With their various skills, Public Matters is able to facilitate positive health change through creative license, engage community members of any age to foster sustainable change, help increase skills and awareness of stakeholders, while bringing forth conversations to foster change and policy. Most importantly, Public Matters offers a voice to those who need it.”


–Sharlene Gozalians, former South LA HEAC Youth Coordinator

Our Practice

We prioritize a systems-thinking approach that enacts a multiplier effect to build mutual support among partners of varied scale, across disciplines and sectors, and connecting large institutions, small, grassroots organizations and schools, local businesses and individuals. Our portfolio includes the design and implementation of creative civic engagement efforts in healthy food access, tobacco control, education, arts and equitable development, public humanities, multimodal transportation, and traffic safety.


Public Matters was founded by an interdisciplinary group of multicultural artists, educators, and media specialists who came together to deepen and grow their ability to affect social change, all while using arts-based strategies to work in other fields and disciplines. Today, our team remains cross-disciplinary, multigenerational, and culturally diverse: artists, educators, designers, facilitators, public engagement specialists, and media production professionals committed to equity, engaged in collaborative creative acts for public good.


In 2014, Public Matters formally launched Urban Futures Lab, a two-year paid fellowship, training and mentorship program for young adults ages 18-26 from under-resourced Los Angeles communities who are committed to social change. The Lab is part on-the-job training, part professional development, part network building and 100% community-focused.


Mike Blockstein (he/him/his)


Mike Blockstein is a visual artist and educator. He has created and led projects nationally, working with youth, community leaders and organizations to reflect on, understand and shape their physical, social and political geographies, including A Chinatown Banquet in Boston Chinatown, Market Makeovers’ work on healthy food access, PDUB Productions in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown, Temple Street Slow Jams, and Greetings from East L.A. He has a long track of pushing paradigms in the visual arts, as Director of Southern Exposure, a San Francisco artists’ organization, through the National Association of Artists Organizations, and as a rare visual artist with a Master in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Shirley Ramirez-Rivera (she/her/hers)

Creative Civic Engagement Associate

Shirley Ramirez -Rivera is an educator and passionate community advocate working at the intersection of arts, urban planning and community engagement to amplify the lived experiences of residents of marginalized communities. Shirley’s connection with Public Matters began when she was a high school student working on Proyecto MercadoFRESCO. She was a former intern and Urban Future Lab Fellow. Previously, Shirley worked as a community planner with Pueblo Planning and as Community Programs Coordinator for the Cayton Children’s Museum. She is an active member of East Yard for Environmental Justice. Shirley received her B.A. in Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside.

Christine Vasquez (she/her/hers)

Community Liaison

Christine Vazquez is an aspiring urban planner and the first undergraduate accepted to USC from the East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy. Observing East LA’s built environment while running led to her interest in urban planning. Her father’s truck driver experiences and her use of public transportation inspired her focus on transportation and mobility. Christine has worked with Public Matters since graduating high school. Her research on an East LA bike share program received a commendation from Supervisor Hilda Solis. She served as Vice President and Treasurer for the Westlake South Neighborhood Council. Christine is Co-Founder of Mariachi de USC, and an RA while pursuing her Masters in Urban Planning at USC Price.

Reanne Estrada (she/they)


Reanne Estrada is an internationally exhibiting artist whose visual art practice includes drawing, sculpture, media production, graphic design and social practice. With Public Matters, she combines her background in visual arts with social marketing, education, and leadership development to reach and connect with focus populations and project partners, with an emphasis on communities of color, low income individuals, youth, older adults, and people with disabilities. Her individual work and collaborative practice with the Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. have shown in museums, galleries, film festivals, and public spaces. Reanne has an A.B. in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University.

Gemma Jimenez Gonzalez (she/they)

A.C.T.  Coordinator

Gemma Jimenez Gonzalez is a public transit advocate, artist, educator, and community-based urban planner. Her creative practice explores regeneration of urban ecology, mobility, and development. Gemma is a teaching artist with Las Fotos, a role she previously held at the Echo Park Film Center. She co-directed Al Pacito! / Watch Your Step! a community film project on street safety in Panorama City that led to SFV: Collective Movement, a collaborative film project for LA Metro. Additionally, she facilitated events and mentored undocumented and mixed-status students at California State University, Northridge’s DREAM Center. Gemma holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and Planning from California State University, Northridge.

David Lawerence (he/him/his)



David Lawrence is a media artist, designer, producer, and researcher. He is a founding member of Stretcher, a collective of San Francisco Bay Area artists and art critics who have published an online art magazine since 2001. His works include award-winning radio documentary, books, laserdiscs, CD-ROMs, and interactive public space kiosks. While at Lucasfilm Ltd., he did groundbreaking research and production in the emerging field of interactive multimedia with partners including the National Geographic Society, the National Audubon Society, and Apple Computer, Inc. He holds a degree in Conceptual Design from San Francisco State University.


Grace Cruz


Grace Cruz is a Co-Founder of PRIME School, a public charter school focused on Equity, Empowerment and Community Partnerships. Students apply their academic skills and knowledge to community issues, providing viable solutions and implementation to real world problems. Prior to this, Grace taught history and served as a school leader in middle and high schools in New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, Honolulu and Los Angeles. She previously served as an Assistant Head of Middle School at the American School Foundation in Mexico City and as the High School Principal at Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu, where she collaborated with a core group of faculty to develop Mid-Pacific Exploratory (MPX), which included the creation of community learning opportunities in conjunction with the STEM program. Grace has served as an instructional coach and professional development provider to support schools in Project Based Learning and Curriculum Design. Grace graduated from NYU with a BA and MA in History and Education, and received her certification in School Leadership and Administration (with a focus on Informational Technology) from Johns Hopkins University.

Vera deVera


Vera deVera brings more than 30 years of experience in philanthropy, nonprofit governance and public policy. She most recently worked at the California Community Foundation where she led a ten-year community building effort that resulted in the formation of the El Monte Promise Foundation. Vera also oversaw the Foundation’s capacity building programs and co-managed the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative. She’s served as Senior Director for the Fannie Mae Foundation’s western region, as a staffer to two elected officials and as a senior policy analyst for a statewide real estate trade association. Now an independent consultant, Vera remains a trusted and engaged strategic philanthropic thought partner as a Board Trustee for the Durfee Foundation, a member of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander Giving Circle and a Legacy Society donor to the California Community Foundation. Vera holds a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in Urban Planning from UCLA, and a J.D. from Southwestern University School of Law.  She is a Certified Professional Coach.

Ron Milam


Ron Milam brings 17 years of leadership experience in the nonprofit sector, having served over 150 sustainability-oriented organizations as a consultant. He’s currently serving as interim director for Smart Growth California, an initiative of the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities. Ron is skilled at developing leadership, building stronger teams, improving organizational effectiveness and facilitating collaborative change. Previously, he served as founding Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Ron holds a masters degree in Organization Development from Pepperdine University.

Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf


Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf is a Principal at WolfBrown, a nationally recognized cultural planning and nonprofit arts consulting agency. As a researcher at Harvard Project Zero, she led studies on the early development of artistic and symbolic capacities. She directed Project PACE (Projects in Active Cultural Engagement) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focusing on youth as vital, but often ignored, forces in cultural planning. More recently, she has pioneered evaluation studies that build the capacities of organizations, funders, and the communities they serve, co-authoring More Than Measuring, a longitudinal study of the effects of arts-based learning, sponsored by Big Thought, a 50-organization consortium in Dallas. Wolf has published widely on issues of assessment, evaluation, artistic, and imaginative development. Her work shows a commitment to increasing youth’s access to learning featuring inquiry, innovation, and imagination both in and out of school. In 2013, she was awarded the National Guild Service Award from the National Guild for Community Arts Education.

McCrae A. Parker


McCrae A. Parker has over 20 years of experience in the youth development, workforce development and media education fields through his work with organizations such as Just Think!, Children Now, the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Families, and the San Francisco Conservation Corps. McCrae served as Managing Director at ZeroDivide (San Francisco, CA) where he managed technology capacity building and broadband expansion projects for under-resourced and under-served communities in California and the Western US. Prior to ZeroDivide, he served as the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Youth Radio, a national youth journalism and media training organization based in Oakland, CA. At Youth Radio, McCrae was charged with the development of innovative local and national program models that supported young people’s education and career exploration, 21st century workforce readiness, and media production. McCrae studied Comparative Literature and Film at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA.

Mark Wolf Podlasly


A member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation located in the Pacific Northwest, Mark is an independent consultant who assists indigenous and local communities to identify and engage local economic, social and education opportunities. A graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and the HKS Centre for Public Leadership, Mark develops and delivers strategy and leadership programs for urban communities, tribal governments and regional financial institutions to better understand and benefit from proposed urban land redevelopment, energy/mining/transportation infrastructure, and community financial trust management. Previously Mark ran a successful executive education practice in Asia, Europe and the US, designing corporate strategy and leadership programs for clients including GE, Unilever, General Mills, Clorox, and Goldman Sachs.

Randy Tan


Randy leads the Southern California public sector and education consulting practice for Slalom LLC – a global business and technology advisory firm. He has managed and delivered business and technology transformation projects for over 100 agencies in the State of California and across the country. He specializes in strategic planning, performance management, and organizational efficiency and effectiveness – with the goal of improved service delivery and customer experience. In addition, he has experience serving as an Adjunct Faculty at Seattle University and Saint Martin’s University instructing on leadership, project management, and operations management at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Randy holds a M.H.A. from the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development (now the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy), and a B.S. in Human Development from UC, Davis.


Kate Hawkes


Kate Hawkes is a QuickBooks Professional & Small Business Advisor. Since 2016, Kate has assisted Public Matters in systematizing its bookkeeping. Kate has been self-employed as a QuickBooks Professional since 2013 and a QuickBooks user since 2004. Kate focuses on helping small businesses utilize QuickBooks and third party technology solutions to their fullest potential for streamlined bookkeeping and business management.  Originally from Silicon Valley, Kate earned a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Claremont McKenna College.  Before striking out on her own, Kate was a Financial Analyst at global consulting firm Accenture LLP. She then honed her expertise in small business development, finance, human resources, and sales support and operations through various positions with Convergent Management, Neurion Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and G-Form LLC.


William Warrener


William Warrener works as a project manager and producer in arts and culture. He supports the Urban Futures Lab Fellowship by assisting in the development of training content, editing Fellows’ work, and providing guidance to Fellows’ professional development. In addition to Public Matters, he regularly works with Bird and Gorton, an international team of arts consultants. He is in his element when bringing people together to use art, stories and debate to enact positive change. Before arriving in Los Angeles in summer 2016, William spent three years running projects for the Cultural Institute at King’s College London, developing professional opportunities for students within London’s most prestigious cultural organizations. He continues to host and facilitate King’s Culture Hacks. Alongside this, between 2012 and 2016 William worked with London’s pioneering Clore Leadership Programme, managing residential courses for groups of international cultural leaders and programming international study visits.


You can read William’s reflections on Urban Futures Lab here.


As a social enterprise, Public Matters operates through client-based projects as well as through generous support from foundations, businesses, and individuals.


Supporters include:



Interested in supporting Public Matters?

Your donations support our work in Los Angeles communities and our capacity to train tomorrow’s leaders.




Public Matters is a project of Fulcrum Arts’ Emerge fiscal sponsorship program.



Blockstein, M., & Estrada, R. (2020). How Do You Expand the Expectations for Public Practice? Art Practical: In/With/For the Public.


Blockstein, M. (2017). The Case for Complexity. Americans for the Arts: Excellence and Equity in Arts for Change blog salon.


Blockstein, M., & Estrada, R. (2014). PDUB Productions: Mapping Hi Fi. In T. Presner, D. Shepard, & Y. Kawano, HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities (74-83). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


KCET Artbound. (2013-2014). Public Matters’ Market Makeovers.