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Geographic Sustainability

Where on the map have you gone to explore art spaces?

  • West of the 5 Freeway

  • East of the 5 Freeway

As a student at East Los Angeles College and the 2023 Getty Marrow Undergraduate Intern of Education and Community Engagement at the Vincent Price Art Museum, my long term educational and career goal has been realized by way of accessing spaces that inform my artistic social practice. I have come to recognize that my practice as a community organizer is rooted in the value of transformative learning experiences. My studies at ELAC have inspired me to pursue long term educational goals, which are obtaining two majors in Art History, Sociology, and a certificate from the Museum Studies Certificate Program. I believe these subjects intersect in a melodic way to inform the praxis of intentional community engagement. A transformative learning experience can happen in an environment that encourages thought provoking interpretations in a group setting. My first transformative experience in an arts space occurred at the age of thirteen, at a nonprofit arts organization west of Alameda St. in Los Angeles. I went for the purpose of supporting my brother’s art. I did not expect to be encouraged to contribute in a conversation of creative interpretation, yet that moment inspired me to think abstractly. The cultivation of engaging learning environments invites transformative experiences in which local public institutions have the potential to curate. These spaces for communities enhance the experience to learn, engage, and contribute to an ongoing collective narrative. Nonetheless, the socio-economic barriers of communities like mine suggest that sustaining capital is more of a pressing priority than engaging in spaces aside from their home or work life. My internship experience centered on enhancing community engagement in a teaching museum. Throughout this experience, I have been influenced to reflect on the potential of transformative learning experiences while exercising awareness to invisible barriers that continue to exist in historically underserved communities. 

  My local community of East Los Angeles has been home to a diverse demographic of native and immigrant populations who have maintained their efforts to sustain a collective culture. The collective culture we experience in the East Los Angeles community today is responsive to social factors as it relates to issues of political, economic, and geographic barriers. The public institutions that exist to complement our community include the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) campus, the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM), and public libraries which all support the creative and intellectual potential of community members. ELAC is known to be a multicultural community-centered college campus, recognized in supporting the most community college students nationwide in California. Both ELAC and the Vincent Price Art Museum were founded on the premise to serve our community, offering the physical space to sustain critical thinking among students and community members. Public libraries also do this by providing materials and workshops for members of the community to learn a new skill, watch a film, or engage in a panel discussion.  Each of these locations can be considered third spaces, or locations that promote social interaction to occur aside from work or home. The ability to thrive intellectually in a place of comfort and access promotes the cultivation of communal wellness. Communal wellness is a process that values culturally-specific strategies as it relates to the spiritual and mental sustainability in a community. In my experience I have come to know communal wellness as a space for decoding political and communal issues. Never have I concluded a communal wellness convening and not felt a collective resilience.  Storytelling is central in this practice, as it bridges intergenerational conversations and illuminations. Historically, the working class status of East Los Angeles community members has accepted working as a barrier to attend workshops and community events. My single mother demonstrated this barrier to me from an early age. Time did not seem to be enough for quality engagement, rather one or two days out of the week we would go somewhere that was both educational and fun. Due to this upbringing, once I discovered the holistic approaches art offers, I utilized any arts resources I could find as an aid to holistically approach my personal struggles. Mind and body centered workshops became apparent to me as I reflected on my childhood and coping with intense familial experiences. The determination I sustained to access resources provided by third spaces has influenced my identity as a leader, all leading me to apply for the internship.

Community engagement can evoke a transformative experience through the opportunity to learn, discuss, and promote healthy living practices that best cultivate our communities. Where do you find community? As a student who started during the pandemic, I found it difficult to navigate clubs on-site that supported my educational goals. The topic of higher education and its relevance to my immediate community of East Los Angeles has influenced me to make space for these conversations through my position as Co-Chair of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.C.h.A) at ELAC. This student organization founded during the Civil Rights and Chicano Movement has historically empowered BIPOC students to reach their highest academic potential while empowering the community they serve. What I have found most impactful in my studies at ELAC is the ability to connect with like-minded students, professors, and museum staff who all serve as a resource to the community college campus. Each discourse provides the opportunity for introspection related to how lived experiences inform our way of thinking. Transactional interactive and group-based engagement styles speak directly to the needs of ourselves as students and members of various communities. Art can promote growth by way of discourse and reflection. Often, nonprofit or grassroot organizations carve space for communal wellness by offering educational or holistic workshops that enhance the learning experience of the community member. Typically the workshops’ purposes coincides with the organization's mission along with ties to short term funding. Sustaining holistic spaces that exchanges cultural knowledge is useful in aiding communal narratives, yet is not considered a priority when there is no voice to express the need. Learning experiences can differ on occasions. How do you like learning? Critical thinking creates a more active approach to learning compared to knowledge being given to you. Exchanging interpretation is a useful practice to connect and collaborate ideas related to community organizing as a process of reclaiming. 

Located at the corner of the ELAC campus, VPAM is one of few museums to exist on the Eastside of Los Angeles. It has enhanced the educational and social experience of students and community members as far back as 1957, when it first opened. It continues to serve as a unique educational resource to promote creative thinking and interpretation through visual arts and community engagement. The value in curiosity is likely to be realized by exploring the spaces that exist in your environment. Throughout the duration of my internship, I considered and defined the term community museum as it relates to VPAM. Community museums serve as an ecosystem that sustains awareness of socio-economic and geographic significance as it relates to the mission of the museum. The term community museum has also been utilized by the Smithsonian’ Anacostia Community Museum, which described their mission to illuminate the intersections of history, culture and contemporary social issues. To complement this concept I focused on the question, how can I actively engage museum visitors in a way that takes them on a journey of curiosity? I brainstormed questions and strategies on how I as a visitor would want to be engaged. There are countless designs and symbols carried on the body of artworks that are as ancient as 2000 BCE. Observing small details naturally leads to questioning why the piece was made, who made it, or what it means. In this sense I was inspired to create a scavenger hunt for visitors who had yet to observe the details of the permanent collection exhibition, From and Function Art of the Americas. I have come to recognize culturally specific pieces with familiarity due to my studies in art history that have intersected with the ancient art found at the museum. Despite it being relevant to be because I took a class, I was motivated to create engagement material that can invite nonacademic visitors to make connections in a natural way. Their experience in the museum can be enhanced should they choose to ask questions, or seek out an alternate way to connect. 

Transformative learning at the Vincent Price Art Museum has existed since its founding as a gallery space. As an academic museum, students at ELAC and the Los Angeles Community College District have been encouraged to display their work in the (biannual) Student Showcase. The function of the museum within the community actively transforms its function as a third space. By way of illustration, ELAC students were invited to participate in the new Classroom-in-Residence program during the Spring semester of 2023. Coinciding with a traveling exhibition called, What Would You Say? Activist Graphics, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, students were given the prompt to make a political graphic that correlates to the curriculum in their general ed class of Political Science 001. This engagement strategy evidently enhanced the learning experience of the students taking the course. The cross-curricular process considered classroom knowledge in conjunction with lived experiences of students as they explored the printmaking medium within 4 weeks. The result was a temporary exhibition titled, Using Our Voices: Student Political Graphics from East Los Angeles College, which displayed their political message in a visual way. The first time I viewed their political message conveyed in visual art, I was amazed by their extensive dialogue of political issues that correlate to the immediacy of current pressing topics. The workshops were held in the new Vincent Price Art Museum’s Learning Lab. A gallery turned resource space will support ELAC students in their educational and creative process on site. I supported the closing reception of the exhibition by considering ways in which students can feel empowered by their creation with the support of the immediate community of ELAC and VPAM. The students described elements of their art along with the thought process that led to its creation. I felt so much pride listening to my ELAC peers speak on the impact of their transformative experience in the museum. 

The future trajectory I am pursuing considers sociological approaches as they relate to arts education. I have been inspired to explore third spaces, social spaces aside from school or work, where the potential for transformative learning experiences are likely to occur. Community engagement and education are important subjects to me as a self identified social practice artist. Being a full time student, I expect to transfer by Spring 2024. Until then, I will be an active student leader on campus for the M.E.C.h.A student organization, planning events that engage my peers on campus. Taking the time to consider my practice as an artist has led me to curating collections that are specific to themes related to personal narratives. I plan to practice this work by recording oral histories from elderly community elders to sustain and build communal memory. This internship and blog post has inspired me to question and discover new vocabulary that best aligns with my philosophy as a community engagement coordinator. I look forward to writing more blogs about sociological concepts as they relate to the arts. To me, being in a community can look like sharing a simple hello, or engaging with children in their artistic education. I create lesson plans for children who live in my community so that they can have more transformative learning experiences. Overall, I look to maintain critical thinking as I consider invisible barriers that may prevent community members from engaging in a meaningful way. Intentional approaches are important to me in my efforts to engage communities because I recognize that limitations may persist in socio-economically impacted communities.

Special thanks to: The Vincent Price Art Museum staff.

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