Berggruen Institute Unveils First LA-Based Program for Social Cohesion; Kicks Off New Project With Korean American Federation of Los Angeles to Formulate Recommendations for the City of Los Angeles Master Plan

Rachel S. Bauch

Today, the Berggruen Institute unveiled its first Los Angeles-based program called Sense LA – a tool for social cohesion and public participation – and announced a new project with the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KAFLA) to develop formal recommendations for the City of Los Angeles master plan.

Developed by Berggruen Fellow Gabriel Kahan, Sense LA harnesses the power of art and urban collective intelligence to bring communities together to cultivate shared perspectives and develop solutions to local problems. The Sense LA process is designed for diverse groups of individuals to engage in multi-pronged decision-making and involves the joint creation of a kinetic sculpture that synthesizes participants’ perspectives.

Known for its deep connections and network with communities throughout the Wilshire Corridor, KAFLA will use its extensive network to participate in creative assemblies throughout Central Los Angeles. Current partner organizations in addition to KAFLA include: Little Bangladesh Improvements (LBI); Banglar Bijoy Bohor (BBB); Bangladeshi American Society (BAS); Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA); Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council (WCKNC); Westlake North Neighborhood Council (WSNNC); Westlake South Neighborhood Council (WSNC); Magnolia Community Initiative (MCI) and Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP).

These assemblies help individuals within the community to identify and address areas of mutual interest in a discussion about the future of their neighborhoods. Participants wear blindfolds throughout the discussion, and the assembly ends with the group coming together to create a sculpture as a result of their conversation. Sense LA will live simultaneously in digital and physical formats, creating multiple entry-points with the information generated by the groups.

The launch event, in partnership with the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KAFLA), was attended by more than 75 community members and civic and grassroots organization leaders from the Wilshire corridor and surrounding areas, to experience the Sense LA methodology and think critically about what democracy can look like at the local level. Attendees listened to Berggruen Institute and KAFLA leaders about the process and participated in a mock assembly.

The program illustrates Berggruen Institute’s commitment to creating opportunities for dialogue and innovative approaches in governance. The methodology of Sense LA, called PREPARE, was created by Berggruen Fellow, Artist and Researcher Gabriel Kahan; Mechanical Engineering Professor Alexander Slocum at MIT; and data visualization experts at Caltech and Art Center.

“We are excited to launch Sense LA and share Gabriel’s innovative model for community engagement,” said Dawn Nakagawa, Berggruen Institute Executive Vice President. “Sense LA reflects the kind of transformation we believe needs to take place in democracy, whereby innovative forms of participation become the new civic architecture for the 21st Century, empowering democracy.  We believe this program will have real impact in our city and Los Angeles can become a model for other cities across the country and beyond. We are grateful to the team at KAFLA for bringing together an unprecedented coalition of communities throughout Central Los Angeles to engage in this important process.”

“I’m grateful to the Berggruen Institute for supporting the development of the Sense LA methodology,” said Gabriel Kahan, Berggruen Fellow and Sense LA Director. “Working with the City’s Information Technology Agency and joining KAFLA and our community partners to create data that connects the city as a dynamic, living and ever-changing organism. Our assemblies help participants to move beyond entrenched opposition to greater social cohesion.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the Berggruen Institute on Sense LA,” commented Laura Jeon, KAFLA President. “Now more than ever, it is important for our communities to come together to think about the future of our neighborhoods and provide input to the City of Los Angeles for our community plan.  Sense LA provides the Wilshire corridor and surrounding areas with a platform to bring together the diverse communities to have honest and open conversations on our shared perspectives and what needs to be done to build a better future for our community.”

“In a time when people don’t believe their voices are being heard and communities may feel polarized, we are bringing together the many diverse communities to work with Sense LA to give people the understanding that their input matters and that dialogue at the community level can lead to better-informed government policies and plans,” said Emile Mack, EVP, KAFLA.


Sense LA is supported by the City of Los Angeles Information Technology Agency (ITA), and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Community partners include KAFLA, Central City Neighborhood Partners (CCNP), Bangladesh Unity Federation of Los Angeles (BUFLA), Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council (WCKNC) and Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA).

About Berggruen Institute

The Berggruen Institute’s mission is to develop foundational ideas and shape political, economic, and social institutions for the 21st century. Providing critical analysis using an outwardly expansive and purposeful network, we bring together some of the best minds and most authoritative voices from across cultural and political boundaries to explore fundamental questions of our time. Our objective is enduring impact on the progress and direction of societies around the world. To date, projects inaugurated at the Berggruen Institute have helped develop a youth jobs plan for Europe, fostered a more open and constructive dialogue between Chinese leadership and the West, strengthened the ballot initiative process in California, and, the creation of The WorldPost, a global media platform that brings thought leaders from around the world to share ideas. In addition, the Berggruen Prize, a $1 million award is conferred annually by an independent jury to a thinker whose ideas are shaping human self-understanding to advance humankind.

About Korean American Federation of Los Angeles

The Korean American Federation of Los Angeles (KAFLA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit civic leadership organization that serves and empowers the Korean American community of Los Angeles County.  Founded in 1962, KAFLA represents and protects the interests of our community, and serves as an umbrella to over 250 community organizations throughout Greater Los Angeles.  It is the only organization in which the Korean American community elects its President.  KAFLA has been an active voice in advocating for the political and social rights and interests of the Korean American community for over half a century and has been a leader in the promotion of cultural exchange between the Korean American and multitude of diverse ethnic communities in Greater Los Angeles.  For more information, visit

About Gabriel Kahan

Gabriel Kahan works at the intersection of art, pedagogy, and collective intelligence. For over 10 years he worked closely with local and national governments, NGO’s and schools, creating and deploying online educational content, impacting over 4 Million students and teachers in the US and the Americas. Between 2014-2017 Gabriel was a researcher and lecturer at MIT’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology where he developed a collaborative learning method to help diverse groups of people from varied backgrounds and abilities identify, understand and express common yet complex situations, through deep thinking, design management and manufacturing, and artistic reification. As a Berggruen Fellow, Gabriel is deploying the method throughout Los Angeles to create an urban collective-intelligence resource to help people from all backgrounds and abilities, have a civic voice in their community, understand their city and their place within it, guide multi-pronged decision making, and create new perspectives, together.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.