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Storyhouse Foundation, Membership Community for Creatives and Collaborative Healing, to Open in Koreatown


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Sylvia M. Zakhary is the founder of Mamag Group, a Los Angeles-based entertainment holding company for the producer’s portfolio of endeavors all focused on representation and equitable opportunity in media. Founded in 2016, Mamag is home to a creative agency; a creative incubator that nurtures talent; and a film and TV production company that collaborates with clients across music, film, art, advocacy, fashion, and technology. It’s responsible for Beyonce’s “Black is King” musical film and a successful Adidas Originals campaign featuring Donald Glover.

Zakhary’s latest project is the Storyhouse Foundation, born out of a desire to create space that nurtures creatives of color, who Hollywood has often treated as footnotes rather than theses. The nonprofit is designed to bring together artists and tastemakers across industries to encourage healing across creative mediums. This concept for an ever-expanding wellness space — or “new structure of feeling,” as she puts it — has now manifested into a bona fide membership-based , housed in Mamag Group’s 10,000-square-foot, multi-use space in Koreatown. Since officially opening for applications in January, Storyhouse Foundation already has 500 membership inquiries and counting. Doors to the inaugural impact hub are expected to open for members on April 7.

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Storyhouse Community logo

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“Storyhouse is truly a reflection of Mamag and the company I’ve already built. It’s just a future version of it,” Zakhary says. “It’s for people within the industry who know what they don’t know and are looking for a place to find an answer — or to help them ask the right questions.” The goal, ultimately, is to offer thoughtful programming, hands-on workshops, and private, wellness-minded events to actors, directors, writers, musicians, advertising and business executives, thought leaders, and culture shapers at unique locations around the world, to harness the power of creativity and industry resources into conscious, artistic action.

New York-born Zakhary — who is Egyptian and grew up in Beirut before returning to New York as a teenager and eventually settling in Los Angeles — feels creatives in the entertainment industry are not only in need of greater community, but specifically spaces dedicated to healing from the calcification of being overlooked and underappreciated by mainstream channels.

“[It’s like] the UN for creatives,” Zakhary, whose parents both worked for the UN, said. “Storyhouse is asking ‘How do we help artists, creatives, and that community do the inward work so that their outward work — whether that looks like a body of music, or a film, or a speech, or a for-profit company that is not performative — can be masterful? And that’s not to say we’re planning on changing people in 48 hours, but we’re introducing this idea of doing that [inner] work first within the creative community.”

Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats, affectionally dubbed the “fairy godparents of Storyhouse,” have been key partners throughout the development process and will remain so moving forward. “Storyhouse is the home we all need as creatives and true dreamers. Finally, a united global front for creatives to express greatness. I’m honored to be a small piece to a big master plan,” Swizz Beatz said in a statement.

Alicia Keys added: “Every creator featured on the platform has such an important story to share, and Storyhouse is giving these visionaries a special way to connect with each other and the platform they deserve to share those stories.”

In the fall, Storyhouse was soft-launched high in the hills of Pasadena, in a home that has the feel of a temple on Mount Olympus – prominent and divine. Designed in 1973 by trailblazing modernist architect A. Quincy Jones, the avant-garde estate, anchored by a bonsai tree and multiple interior atriums, belonged to Adelaide Hixon, the late Pasadena philanthropist, and her family who commissioned it to be built specifically to host parties and visiting guests.

Held on Oct. 9, 2021, the event offered wellness-oriented activities by day and turned into a cocktail party by night, with live music performances, dancing and an open bar in the home’s first-level open floor plan, designed for entertaining. Programming at the soft launch event served as a small-scale case study for the larger Storyhouse mission and how Zakhary and her team (her husband, Sing J. Lee, is Mamag’s chief creative officer) will continue building the program out. Guests were invited to participate in dance therapy, visit a sonic exploration room featuring sounds and prayers from around the world, watch an international short film screening and join Zakhary’s laughing meditation with her Mamag client, Donald Glover.

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Zakhary hosts a discussion at the inaugural event on October 9, 2021

Courtesy of Homer Williams

“The purpose of Storyhouse programmatically is to design experiences and activities that are not just using language but using our bodies and using our other senses,” Zakhary explained. “My instinct to create a new structure of feeling as opposed to the traditional and conventional programs of panels and talking … we have used the English language ad nauseam to make change. And there’s been great change happening, but it’s also maybe not the language that, as creatives, will inspire us for change — panels don’t always work.”

One installation was a “garden confessional,” held in the home’s closets that served as private booths, where guests could share a confidential one-on-one conversation with a spiritual healer and opt to record it or listen to another person’s anonymous confession. “The point is to have really simplified interconnectivity between humanity,” Zakhary says. “So the stories that you’re actually listening to will be recorded by incarcerated individuals or refugees, or a billionaire, or a housewife, or a working single mom to show that we all have so many shared experiences. You may hear someone who has a Russian accent or an Arabic accent, and they share the same experiences as you — the goal is to remove all the veils of stereotypes and biases.”

Guests ranged from advertising executives to music producers, screenwriters to social justice activists and politicians.

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Guests enjoy Storyhouse’s daytime programming in the Linda Vista hills of Pasadena, Calif.

Courtesy of Homer Williams

“I see a lot of similar dichotomies between the tech world and the Hollywood world when it comes to this issue around diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Mohannad El-Khairy, international business strategist, investor, and founder of Tidal Impact Holdings, said at the event. “And I think that, especially when you think of it from a consumer standpoint, people are just now way more aware of the products — what are the things that they want to watch, or how do they want to see more inclusivity in media? I think that [the direction] Storyhouse is going in is just inevitable — we need to see more representation, we need to see more diversity. It’s the right time to showcase this kind of platform for the world.”

Koye Adeboye, communications lead at Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, said: “I’m someone who’s committed to trying to find ways of turning awareness into action. There’s so many challenges we face in the world today — in a way, you can make an argument that things are asymmetrical, much easier to destroy than to build. So how do you change culture? You have to work with the people who shape culture and people who can help shift minds and hearts. So it’s important for us to do the outreach to the creative community, to Hollywood, and the entertainment industry.”

Currently, Storyhouse Foundation offers two membership options: ‘House members’ are granted access to Zakhary’s private Koreatown location, cultural programming, private dinners and musical performances dubbed ‘Storyhouse Afterhours,’ and the foundation’s annual symposiums and intentional retreats, which will eventually take place internationally. Foundation members have access to cultural programming and after-hours events.

“House Membership has a bit of a stringent application process simply due to the fact that this is not a home for ‘networking’ or ‘co-working’ like other ‘members-only’ clubs,” Zakhary, who is still reviewing applications for the first round of members, explains. “We are a true culture hub and think tank across creative mediums.” Most of the applications for house membership have come by word of mouth, particularly since Zakhary and her team have yet to do a targeted marketing push for Storyhouse in an effort to attract a “unique and specific person” who is willing to reveal their creative process so that Zakhary and her team can determine how their skills, interests, and resources can benefit the whole Storyhouse community. The tier-based memberships start at $200 a month and jump up exponentially, especially for the foundation’s corporate partners.

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Zakhary with husband and collaborator Sing J. Lee in their multi-use Koreatown office space

Courtesy of Keith Oshiro

“I don’t ask anyone what they do or who they are. There are people that I consider VIP in my mind, body, and spirit who may not have an Oscar or the power to run a studio,” she said. “Storyhouse unlocks the institutionalized notion behind ‘members-only clubs.’ Being here feels like we are remotely tucked away from the biases of the material and digital world, opening up our freedom of thought, especially for creatives of color like myself.”

Looking ahead, Storyhouse will be getting early members acquainted with dues, along with the spaces they’ll have permanent access to as office space. The space in Koreatown will soon be available for use, and Zakhary is working on getting permanent spaces outside of Los Angeles, too — in Menlo Park, New York and London, specifically. The team is working on setting programming for 2022 in motion, which will look like a collection of symposiums and events that happen for the community both domestically and will also travel globally. Says Zakhary: “The goal is to take it international and embody spaces and bring our energy and philosophy and the movement to a global scale.”

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