Socially Responsible Art: Connecting Legacy L.A. Youth to Artistic Opportunities and Personal Expression

Introduction

 

  

In partnership with Legacy L.A., a Boyle Heights-based nonprofit focused on youth development, ArtCenter transdisclipinary students introduced the local high schoolers to various artistic mediums, and through the creative design process, conceptualized and produced pieces for an art exhibition on the Legacy L.A. campus. By connecting with youth one-on-one through a shared art-making experience, ArtCenter students gained a deeper appreciation of the design process and how art reflects community voices, socieoeconomic issues and individual expression.

Project brief

 
 

  

To cultivate greater understating and a heightened appreciation of the people and history in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, ArtCenter students introduced youth at the nonprofit Legacy L.A. to various artistic mediums. ArtCenter students guided the youth through the art-making process, instructing them in creative thinking that reflects personal expression and community experiences. The culmination was an art exhibition featuring the youth’s work on the Legacy L.A. campus.

  

“The best way to learn about a topic is to teach a topic. You are breaking down how you came to understand it, and if you see a blank face, then you try a different angle, as you begin to understand how faceted this thing you are operating with, that you are passionate about. You are forced to reexamine the history and all the other elements about that topic. Teaching, without a doubt, makes you a better artist.”

– Olga Koumoundouros, Faculty, ArtCenter

About Legacy LA

 
 

  

Founded in 2007, Legacy L.A. reaches out to youth living in Ramona Gardens and the surrounding neighborhoods by offering positive activities and alternatives to gangs and violence that has deeply affected this East Los Angeles community.

Through its ongoing programs and projects, including a leadership partnership with the LAPD as well as and afterschool mentoring and academic support, Legacy L.A. provides young people with the tools to transform their lives and their communities. Youth are engaged in social justice, community issues and organizing along with environmental justice and improving relations between youth and law enforcement.

  

“I’ve seen some of these young people develop their speaking skills; some of them have been so numb to what is happening in their lives or in their communities. Having a space and a studio like this reminds them that they are alive. That joy is a part of life. The ArtCenter students were super cool and were always ready to provide advice. The Legacy youth saw that their ideas were valid by other artists.”

– Jacquelyne Rodriguez, Legacy L.A.

Research and Project Development

 
 

  

ArtCenter students traveled onsite to the Legacy L.A. campus to meet the high school students who would be participating in the studio and learn more about the community. Many high schoolers currently take part in art programs at their schools, but this studio would stress an exploration of artistic mediums, allowing the youth to freely discover the creative process of turning idea into reality and a vehicle for personal expression.

ArtCenter students also delved into practical art pedagogy; they read from author Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds  which provided them with a foundation in understanding core principles and workable activities that can be used in creative and organizational work.

Taking on a leadership role, ArtCenter students each were responsible for presenting a new artistic medium to the high schoolers. ArtCenter students created a curriculum and, working with a budget, sourced and gathered appropriate materials. Some elements – such as an actual screen printing station – were hand built for the studio. Location arrangements were also made; some workshops took place on the ArtCenter campus, while others were held at Legacy L.A.’s classrooms and outdoor spaces.

ArtCenter students held workshops in:

  • Screen printing
  • Plaster sculpturing
  • Sewing (fabric arts)
  • DIY zine creation
  • Adobe Illustrator /artwork created in woodblock stamps via laser cutter

Additionally, two workshops in audible arts were also presented. For the Soundscape session, instructor Jamonn Roberts, along with ArtCenter students who participated in past studios at Legacy L.A., invited all students to bring in 2-3 household items. Using smart phones, the students recorded a 3-4 minute soundscape using those everyday objects to produce sounds and moods.

A second workshop about Field Recordings was held at ArtCenter’s Sound Lab. Using their smart-phones, groups made field recordings and later manipulated, experimented and edited their sounds.

Legacy L.A. students were also treated to a special tour of the ArtCenter campus which encouraged them to see opportunities available in art world.

To prepare for the upcoming group show exhibition, the youth turned their attention and time on creating their own individual self-portraiture projects. They employed methods from the various workshops to create a personal expression through art.

Likewise, ArtCenter students also created installations that would be presented alongside the Legacy L.A. art at the exhibition.

As the opening date for the exhibition drew closer, ArtCenter students worked closer with the youth, overseeing the final touches to their art projects, helping them craft written descriptions and making sure time was properly managed.

As they took on the mantle of instructor, ArtCenter students gained an appreciation of the multiple responsibilities needed to facilitate an engaging studio session. Seeing the subject and process through the lens of teacher, ArtCenter students experienced profound creative connections and a deeper sense of the power of art as a tool of personal expression, especially for inner city youth.

Throughout the studio, both ArtCenter and Legacy L.A. students connected with each other, sharing aspirations and inspirations as they learned how to create and work with those who are not in their immediate circles.

  

“We worked on exposing the Legacy students to different practices and different art mediums. So much of this was new to them and it was nice to see them discovering something for the first time. We wanted to focus on art practices that are accessible so it wasn’t a big reach for them. We wanted them to think, ‘I can make art.’”

– Jamonn Roberts, Faculty, ArtCenter

Art Exhibition

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Mixed media group art exhibition by ArtCenter students and youth from Legacy L.A. Opening night celebration on December 12, 2019.

A culmination of the creative work done in during the course of this Socially Engaged Art studio, the exhibit was a celebration of art, personal reflection and friendships.

Representing individual personalities and personal expression, the Legacy L.A. youth displayed pieces that incorporated three mediums:

 Sculpture (foam pieces with plaster and paint) arranged on cinder blocks
 Silk screen blocks and prints
 A large sewed banner featuring screened printed creations.
Often the artwork reflected frustration, randomness and a sense of feeling unheard in today’s society.

Additionally, Legacy L.A. students created a zine for the exhibition that featured quotes and photographic images.
v Interspersed in the exhibition were pieces created by ArtCenter students:

• “Slapstick,” video piece by Bing Chao.
• “Now You See Me,” video piece by Anna Zhang who revealed her love of dancing.
• “Ave 51 Street Audio,” piece by Yair Sarminento that explored sounds in a HighL.A.nd Park studio.
• “Boundaries,” acrylic painting by Ting Zhou that depicted layered imagery of structure, form and living objects.
• “ICE Silhouettes/Poem” life-size cutouts of ICE agents and enlarged words of a poem in Spanish by Jose Ramon Mata that describes injustices of the current immigration experience in America.

Toward the end of the evening, participating students from Legacy L.A. and ArtCenter stood in front of family and friends and shared their favorite moments of the studio and what they hoped to continue in the art world.

  

“We learned how to go with the flow with this studio. We really had to think on our feet. Every week we improvised, and at first it was uncomfortable, but once we realized the fluidity, it made sense. It became fun. I know I’ll encounter situations later in my career where I have to go with the flow and make the best and improvise.”

– Anna Zhang, Student, ArtCenter

 
Legacy LA