Film as a Tool for Social Change—Cal State LA Partnership Creates Career Access and Amplifies LA-based Nonprofits 

13 December 2023

Since 2017, the innovative Community Impact Media course has welcomed over 180 Cal State LA students who have produced over 30 documentaries on LA-based nonprofits, creating new pathways to creative careers and raising awareness of the important work being done to positively impact local communities.

In 2017, Hauser & Wirth partnered with public university Cal State LA to develop a joint community engagement initiative, giving rise to the innovative documentary filmmaking course, Community Impact Media. A training program for student filmmakers, the course pairs students with local nonprofit organizations to produce high-quality, short documentaries. Students are provided with hands-on experience in media production and storytelling mentorship to bolster both their craft and the inspiring work of the nonprofits they feature. In turn, these organizations are left with a visual tool to educate and build constituencies, support funding efforts and encourage participation.  

Cal State LA students participating in the Spring 2019 semester of Community Impact Media. Photo: Heather Fipps

Screening: Cal State LA Community Impact Media Documentaries Premiere, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 15 December 2018. Photo: smg-photography / Sarah M. Golonka

Located in the heart of Los Angeles, just miles from Hauser & Wirth’s downtown gallery, Cal State LA’s commitment to engagement and service for the public good has made them an invaluable partner. The university is ranked number one in the nation for the upward mobility of its students, many of whom are first-generation college students. Early in the partnership, it was clear that Cal State LA’s key position in the city strengthened the goals of Hauser & Wirth’s global learning program, which aims to foster better access to creative careers through a series of meaningful partnerships. 

As the partnership grew, Hauser & Wirth announced the next phase of the initiative with a grant of USD 1,000,000 to support the undergraduate Television, Film and Media Studies program. The gift, distributed over the last five years, has resulted in scholarships, equipment upgrades and international travel for students doing social impact projects. It has been a major part of the ongoing five-year partnership between the university and the gallery, illustrating each organization’s shared commitment to advancing the use of film as a tool for social change, while developing a positive, lasting relationship with the LA community.

Cal State LA students participating in the Spring 2018 semester of Community Impact Media. Photo: Heather Fipps 

Cal State LA student filming a participant of Everybody Dance, a featured nonprofit in the Spring 2019 semester of Community Impact Media. Photo: Heather Fipps 

In the last five years, the outcomes of this unique partnership have surpassed both classroom boundaries and initial expectations. Through the Community Impact Media students, Hauser & Wirth has developed relationships with a range of organizations that make our city a better place. With Cal State LA as a trusted guide, the gallery has become both a conduit through which the stories of these nonprofits and the people they serve can be shared, and also a meeting space for the exchange of larger ideas affecting our communities in the context of art. Additionally, the partnership has generated important networking and career development opportunities, connecting students with established filmmakers and art world professionals who have provided feedback and professional guidance, ultimately reducing barriers of entry into the film world.   

Oftentimes, the students are learning about these organizations for the first time, and the work that they are able to see inspires them as artists and citizens of our shared world. The program sets expectations that push students to work at a professional level with their assigned organizations. This type of experience is vital to them as they are finishing their degrees, and I have seen first-hand how it has led to students moving successfully into professional work after their graduation.

Jane McKeever, current Director of the Community Impact Media Program and Professor at Cal State LA

Since its inception, over 180 students have participated in Community Impact Media, resulting in 30 short documentaries about the work of nonprofits and initiatives that address issues such as homelessness, mass incarceration and environmental justice. At the end of every semester, students premiere their documentaries at Hauser & Wirth Downtown Los Angeles for the public. Over a thousand people have attended these premieres in person, and tens of thousands of views have been generated by these films online.  

Cal State LA students participating in the Fall 2023 semester of Community Impact Media. Photo: smg-photography / Sarah M. Golonka

Cal State LA, Community Impact Media. Photo: Heather Fipps 

On the occasion of the culmination of the five-year grant and celebration of the continued partnership between Hauser & Wirth and Cal State LA, we look back at each year's films and themes, hearing from the students about their experiences with the course.


Community Impact Media students explored the theme of environmental justice and sustainability in films about the work of We Explore Earth, Garden School Foundation and LA River Public Art Projects. Female/female identifying–led organizations were the focus in documentaries about Nancy Evans Dance Studio, Greetings from South Central, and Collective Identity Mentoring.

I have never touched a 4K camera before this class and now I know how to put one together, film with it, and edit the footage.

Andre Moore, student of Community Impact Media


The landmarking and preservation of important community buildings was the theme in Spring 2022, featuring films about the following organizations: L.A. Conservancy Watts, Latino Heritage Conservation and Asian Pacific Islander Americans in Historic Preservation. The theme for the following semester was community empowerment with student filmmakers focusing on the work of Las Fotos Project and Crop Swap LA.

This experience has taught me about the direct impact that filmmaking can have in creating positive change within our communities. Working on this documentary was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences that I've had, and it has sparked some new inspiration by showing me that I'm able to create art that can help people and programs get their message out into the public.

Kelli Quock, student director of Project Rebound

2021, 2019  

In 2021, student documentaries featured the following nonprofits committed to environmental justice: Human -I-T, City Plants and Nature for All. In 2019, students focused on organizations providing legal services and media literacy training for marginalized communities in the work of Inner City Law Center and Media Done Responsibly. Arts advocacy through social rehabilitation, empowerment and education was another area of interest in films featuring Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory, Everyone Dance, Music Mends Minds and Painted Brain.  

This production taught me more than any classroom environment could have, and I think of it more as my first professional directing job.

Sean Nesler, student director of Green Technology

2018, 2017  

In 2018, students documented the work of nonprofits developing solutions to environmental challenges, including Green Technology, Grades of Green and Communities for Better Environment. Students also explored the ways in which local initiatives were affected by funding constraints in films about Cal State LA Prison Graduation Initiative, Project Rebound and Youth Justice Coalition. In the fall of 2017, student documentaries focused on the following nonprofits: Piece by Piece, Learning Rights Law Center, My Friend’s Place and Girls Today Woman Tomorrow.