“Honestly, I was really nervous,” said Eli Alejo as they thought back to the time just before they left for Art Division’s 2-week intensive in Oaxaca this August. “I had this really big sense of responsibility to really put forth my best work but also experimental work, because they have a lot of techniques that we don’t have here.”
But as soon as they arrived in Oaxaca on August 4, along with the other four Art Division students–Melissa Soriano, Gema Limeta, Jorge Perez and Rogelio Bautista–they immediately felt at home. “I felt like a body of water,” Eli said. “I just flowed.”
This group of students had been selected from a large pool of applicants to participate in Art Division’s third annual study program in Oaxaca, which this year went from August 4 - 20, offering immersion in printmaking, ceramics or crafts. All currently enrolled Art Division students were eligible to apply; criteria for acceptance included commitment to their art form, willingness to learn and connection to Oaxacan culture. All of the trip’s expenses, including travel, room and board, were funded by Art Division.
The students spent two weeks in the talleres, or studios, of established Oaxacan artists and artisans, working with them closely to create art of their own using traditional techniques. Eli and Gema studied printmaking at the taller of Fernando Sandoval. From the beginning, the program was hands-on. “I was nervous, but my teachers at the taller were like: okay, you want to do this, how can we help you execute?” Eli said. “They just helped us carry out our vision.”
For Gema, being thrown into the deep end was empowering. “I was questioning my talent before, and I learned to let go of the doubts that I had about myself and just appreciate myself and my type of art,” she said. Having to trust her intuition changed her approach to art. “I had to stop being so overly critical of myself,” she said. “I learned to just let go and make art.”
Eli agreed that the experience had deepened their trust of themself as an artist. “I’ve leaned into being more confident, being more intuitive,” they said.
Melissa, who studied ceramics with Claudio Jeronimo López at Taller Canela, agreed. Though she had only taken a few months of ceramics classes before, her teachers at the studio gave her the guidance and support she needed to grow. “I instantly felt comfortable and safe,” she said. “Everyone there did their best to help me out.” For her program, she stayed at the home of one of her teachers. The whole taller would gather at lunchtime for a community meal. “Within two weeks I already felt like I’d already stayed there for years,” she said.
Rogelio and Jorge, who studied a variety of crafts at the Centro de Artes de San Augustín, or CaSa, lived and took classes on the premises of CaSa, a former factory redesigned by Francisco Toledo as a center of architecture, design and crafts. “Living with that architecture, the trees, the sounds, the smells, living inside this cultural space really elevated us to feel more welcome,” Jorge said. Led by CaSa’s Director Daniel Brena, they toured the city and took workshops with artisans connected to Toledo’s legacy.
Like Eli, Gema and Melissa, Jorge and Rogelio were inspired by the Oaxacan artists’ intuitive approach.”It goes back to trusting yourself,” Jorge said. He was inspired by the way his teachers continued to challenge themselves, even after a lifetime of experience. “They’re still learning - they’re still exploring the medium,” he said, whether the medium was glass-blowing or weaving or printmaking.
All of the students agreed that even after coming home, their experience in Oaxaca went beyond the skills they learned from their teachers. “I know that I went there because of art, but I didn’t just learn about art, it was about reconnecting with cultural ties that had been broken. Hearing people speak Zapotec,which my parents speak at home, I felt a connection, I really felt at home. I felt like I was where I belonged,” Gema said.
“The residency gave me space to be creative again,” said Art Division student Juan Bautista, who works under the name of Nauj Leunam, as they surveyed the Art Division gallery where their newest prints were on display along with cyanotypes by Ry Essi, also an Art Division student.
Soy Bellisima, DIVX, and Cosas del Amor, Juan’s black-and-white linoleum prints on paper, interrogate visions of femininity and gender with their portrayals of powerful divas. Glimmering Seeds features highlights from Ry’s journals. The works, cyanotypes on wood, silk, and cotton using found collected foliage and negatives, have an underwater, otherworldly feel, with hands, body parts, sea life and handwriting, all floating as if in a dream.
Ry and Juan were chosen to participate in Art Division’s first Artist-in-Residence Program, which began in March 2023. The program provides selected Art Division students with the time, financial assistance, facilities and creative space to experiment with techniques new to them and impress deeper meaning into their art practices.
“In the gentlest and most generative ways, the residency made me refocus,” Juan said. “It gave me space and time and energy to put ideas into practice and workshop them.”
Ry agreed. “My experience with the residency pushed me past my creative limits into unknown terrain that led to whole worlds of possibility,” they said. “Receiving this opportunity allowed me to grapple with what it takes to make a cohesive show and how to install it. Certain plants that were once musing seeds became key players in weaving all of the pieces together.”
The residency was conceived and run by Art Division Special Programs Coordinator Luis Motta in order to offer advanced students the opportunity to push their work to a new level. The residents were given studio space, a stipend for expenses, critiques from visiting artists and assistance with hanging the final installation.
“What’s rewarding is being able to give students access to this kind of support,” Luis said. “Having space and a gallery show at the end is really motivating.”
Juan agreed. “The print shop here was pivotal,” they said. They particularly appreciated the support of Printmaking instructors Javier Carillo and Victor Reyes. “Getting that validation was key,” Juan said. “I studied printmaking in college and I’ve been trying to find my way back in. And this is right in my backyard.”
“Edge of Yearning” will run through August 26, 2023 in the Art Division gallery.
On Saturday, July 24, over mocktails and charcuterie platters, Art Division’s 2022-23 Scholarship recipients raised a glass to celebrate their triumphs this past year: time management, juggling work with classes, pushing their artistic boundaries, staying strong during high-pressure deadlines and even weight loss. For each of them, there were times when they weren’t sure they could get through the year–but all of them persisted, completing the academic year with excellent grades and glad for the way the scholarship fund eased their financial burden. “I’m super-glad that I could be stress-free about my financial situation,” said Leslie Martinez, currently studying for a BA in Studio Art at CSU Long Beach, to general agreement.
They bonded over the shared experience of being transfer students, often having taken time off after community college and being a bit older than their peers. In addition, at prestigious 4-year colleges, they were often surrounded by classmates who came from more privileged backgrounds and did not understand the obstacles they had overcome. “I felt the community support from Art Division, and it helped me thrive as a first-generation student,” said Shanine Jaimes, who is currently studying for her Master’s in Social Work at CSU Los Angeles.
Though Art Division’s classes are free, many of our students also attend college, often while financially supporting themselves and even family members. Almost all of our students will be in the first generation in their families to achieve this goal. With tuition skyrocketing everywhere, even full financial aid doesn’t cover the cost, especially at UC’s or private colleges.
On top of tuition, our students often face other expenses: rent, food, metro passes or gas and parking, computers, books, art supplies. Some of our students are helping to support family members. These expenses can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Sometimes, these expenses may force students to drop out.
“The financial support from the scholarship helped me through rough moments and really provided a sense of stability for me,” said Kata Garcia de la Rosa, who just completed her first year as an undergraduate transfer student at UC Santa Cruz in Cinema and Digital Media studies.
Since 2021, Art Division has been able to give scholarship funds to support our students who are in college and make sure they can graduate. In 2021-22 we awarded 11 scholarships and 2022-23 we awarded 13, ranging from $500 to $5,000 depending on need. In 2022-23, we gave a total of $50,000 to our scholarship recipients.
Scholarship students also talk regularly to Art Division College and Career Counselor Ellie Herman, who checks in at least once a month to make sure they have everything they need, celebrate successes and brainstorm ways to overcome challenges: homesickness, a dreaded math requirement, an apparently impossible assignment, a TA strike on campus.
“It was extremely helpful to check in with Ellie every month. The meetings helped me process the stress I felt at various moments throughout the semester,” said Bryson Nihipali, who just completed his junior year at USC, where he is majoring in Communications.
For 2023-24, with many of our scholarship students headed for graduation and a new group of students just beginning, Art Division Artistic Director Dan McCleary and artist John Nava held a one-day fundraiser at the gallery, selling hand-colored prints to raise funds. The event was so successful that they were able to raise all the money needed for the fall semester.
If you’re interested in contributing to our scholarship fund for Spring 2024, please contact Dan McCleary at email@example.com.
Miles of empty desert stretching in all directions. Concrete slabs in an overgrown field. An abandoned army base. Why would Art Division students want to live here for six months?
Because they’re paid interns in the Education Department at the world-famous Chinati Institute in Marfa, Texas–and they love it. Created in 1986, Chinati is a monumental art installation designed by artist Donald Judd on a repurposed army base. Over miles of otherwise empty desert, Judd’s conceptual installations, along with those of his colleagues Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Robert Irwin and others, fill warehouse-sized spaces with gigantic sculptural work.
Over the years, as word has spread throughout the world, Marfa has become a destination for international art-lovers (including Beyoncé, who visited in 2013.)
For the last year and a half, Art Division students Virginia Fierros Roque, Celina Villanueva and Angela Pastor have each been awarded six-month residential internships at Chinati, gaining an intensive professional experience in museum work. Working closely with Chinati staff, Virginia, Celina and Angela received hands-on training in developing and leading education programs for children and adults in the Marfa community.
“It was life-changing,” says Virginia, who was an intern from February to August of 2022. “It was the most hands-on experience I’ve ever had, I learned so much doing lesson plans and experimenting with new mediums. I just loved the freedom, allowing the kids to be free and just grab any materials they wanted and let their creativity flow.”
Angela, who will conclude her internship the first week of August 2023, agrees. “It’s a completely different energy from LA here, a lot more grounded, a lot slower, more intentional, more community-based.” Despite the relative isolation of living at the nearly-empty institute, Angela has made friends in the community, even joining the Marfa softball team.
Michael Roch, Chinati’s Director of Education and Curricula, and Molly Bondy, Chinati’s Education and Interns Program Manager, are enthusiastic about the relationship with Art Division, welcoming our students’ dedication and perspective. They speak highly of all three interns and say they hope to continue to offer internship opportunities to qualified Art Division students in the coming years.
For Virginia, the experience strengthened her commitment to working in arts education. Upon her return to Los Angeles, she found a job at a A Place Called Home, where she is now the Visual Arts Program Assistant. Celina is finishing her studies at Cal State Long Beach. And as for Angela, she’s not sure what her future holds once she returns, but she knows the program has had an impact on her–despite the relative lack of restaurant choices in Marfa. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she says. “I really encourage any Art Division student to apply for next time.”
Beyond the wide variety of workshops this summer, Art Division students had a chance to delve into the creative worlds of Ndejeka Akunyili Crosby, Stan Douglas, Sam Francis, and the delicate process of art conservation.
On June 9, the students visited David Zwirner's new gallery on Western Avenue, accompanied by staffers Ellie Herman and Dan McCleary, as well as Field Trips volunteer Elsa Longhauser. The group got a tour of Ndejeka Akunyili Crosby's latest show, led by Art Division's own Rebecca Levinson, who had worked as one of Crosby's assistants. Rebecca talked to the students about Crosby's meticulous painting technique, which combines acrylic painting with photographic images of Nigerian pop culture. The adjacent gallery housed the monumental photographs of Canadian artist Stan Douglas, presenting a visual reconstruction of protest sites around the world in 2011.
After the gallery visit, students and staff gathered at Cassell's over cheeseburgers for a lively discussion about the definition of art. Who gets to show art? Who gets to decide which art matters?
On June 16 at LACMA, a group of students, accompanied by Dan, Elsa, and painting instructor Fabián Cerejido, received a personal tour of the exhibition Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing led by curator Richard Speer. Speer guided the group through Francis' work and his experience with Japan. Following the tour, the group enjoyed a picnic lunch on the museum's lawn.
The final trip on June 20, took the students to the Getty Museum's Painting Conservation department, joined by several Art Division staffers: Ellie, Dan, Fabián, Luis Hernandez, Nicole Berlanga and Melissa Soriano. Led by Associate Conservator of Paintings Devi Ormond, the group was able to visit the lower levels of the museum, normally closed to the public. Devi shared her extensive knowledge and expertise on the intricate process of restoring paintings, showcasing the various techniques employed to bring artworks back to their original state. Afterwards, on the patio of the museum, the group enjoyed sandwiches, chips and a great conversation about artistic practice.
In addition to the great art, these trips are a terrific way for students to get a chance to hang out, share a meal and spend time with each other, building community as we expand our understanding of art.
It’s graduation season at Art Division! Alongside their classes here, many of our students are also enrolled in community colleges and four-year colleges. This June saw several graduations: Leslie Martinez, Essence Petty, Mika Muyongo and Luis Ramirez from Santa Monica College; Melanie Deas from Pasadena City College; and Leslie Villamil from East LA College. Four will be transferring to four-year colleges in the fall.
Art Division Artistic Director Dan McCleary and College and Career Counselor Ellie Herman attended the graduation at Santa Monica College to cheer on our graduates on Tuesday, June 13 at 5 pm. A huge crowd filled the bleachers, waving balloons, bouquets, signs and even arrangements of dollar bills to celebrate the occasion.
To wild applause, Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffrey, Superintendent and President of Santa Monica College, introduced the commencement ceremony, the first to be held in person since the pre-pandemic days of 2019. She pointed out with pride that all of the assembled graduates had overcome significant obstacles in accomplishing their graduation, during a time when a record number of students dropped out of community colleges altogether. These graduates, however, persisted even through the isolation and confusion of the pandemic. According to Dr. Jeffrey, over 6,000 students graduated this June, one of the largest numbers in the history of Santa Monica College.
After several other inspirational speeches from graduates and professors, thousands of graduates walked the stage, each one cheered on by elated friends and family members. Due to the unprecedented number of graduates, the ceremony went on for an extremely long time, so long that Dan and Ellie told and re-told every story they had ever known. Though Ellie estimated, at a rate of one graduate every five seconds, that the ceremony would take 8.3 hours, her math was questionable; some two hours later, Art Division students Essence Petty and Leslie Martinez crossed the stage, to wild applause.
Essence will attend Cal State Long Beach in the fall, along with Mika Muyango, who also graduated from SMC but chose not to attend the ceremony. Leslie Martinez has already begun her studies at CSU Long Beach. In addition, Leslie Villamil, who graduated from East LA College, will transfer to CSU Long Beach this fall.
Melanie Deas will transfer from Pasadena City College to CSU Northridge. Luis Ramirez will transfer from Santa Monica College to UCLA. Piper Kinion will transfer from Santa Monica college to California College of the Arts.
All of us at Art Division are proud of the hard work and dedication of our college students, who have persisted despite all of the challenges of the pandemic, and who often hold down full-time jobs in addition to their studies. Congratulations, scholars!
On Saturday, May 24 2023 from 3 - 5 pm, the Art Division Gallery held an opening for new work by students in the Spring 2023 classes. All of the work in the show was created in class, with pieces from Abstract Painting, Drawing with the Brush, Drawing, Bookbinding, Printmaking, Advanced Printmaking, Photography, Collaborative Painting and Adobe Illustrator. The gallery and the printmaking studio were filled with students, family members and people from the community, all admiring the art and enjoying the chance to talk about their artistic journeys.
In the Paint Studio next door, students from the Film class held a public screening of their work, which ranged from documentaries to narrative pieces. The audience also had the opportunity to appreciate the musical compositions by students in the Music Production and Advanced Music Production classes. A standing-room-only crowd applauded every student’s work.
Meanwhile, in the gallery, Art Division student Essence Petty hosted a Fashion Swap, inviting all students to bring in their gently used clothing and shoes. Many students dropped off clothing, then stayed to build a summer wardrobe of new (to them) pieces. Bookbinding instructor Joel Freeman was so inspired that he created a book of clothing by putting each item in the photocopier, making giant color high-resolution copies, then attaching the pages at one end. Even newcomers to Art Division were drawn in by the fashion offerings, with one man, a newcomer to the community, scoring a superb pair of green corduroy overall hotpants.
Of course, Art Division’s in-house Mixologist Ellie Herman was on hand, offering a choice of fresh house-made Mocktails: a spicy grapefruit ginger fizz and a crisp, sweet No-jito. Though Ellie did not intend to participate in the Fashion Swap, having contributed nothing and frankly having very little fashion sense, she could not resist going home with a cropped fluffy cow-print jacket that will likely cause her to be the envy of all.
The Student Showcase will be open through June 10, 2023.
On April 14-16, four Art Division students set off for a weekend in the woods near Three Rivers to paint, sketch, walk and enjoy some quiet, immersive time in nature. The trip was part of a longterm collaboration between Art Division and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park that will culminate in a series of artworks to raise awareness of the effect of climate change on the sequoias. Art Division students Essence Petty, Blaine Wells-West, Piper Kinion, and Raquel Rodriguez traveled to Three Rivers with Art Division staff members Cindy Ojeda, Nicole Berlanga, and Alina Kawai, where they stayed at the home of Denise Domergue in Three Rivers. The group bonded over family meals cooked by Nicole and Cindy, and enjoyed the outdoors when they weren't working on their project.
Throughout the weekend, the students spent their time closely studying the forest environment, enjoying the quiet, and doing plein air painting of their surroundings. On Saturday, the students learned more about the impact of the climate on the sequoia from Dr. Christy Brigham Chief of Resource Management and Science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
"It was great to hear her talk,” Piper said. “It was very informative both on the practical side and on the science side." They were particularly struck by the impact of climate change on the sequoias, with damage due to the 2021 fires, which burned for three months and killed between 1,330 to 2,380 large sequoias.”
Essence also really appreciated Dr. Brigham’s talk. "I learned a bit more about the impact of climate change on the sequoias. 20% of them are gone, which is crazy for our air quality," she said.
On Saturday night, they were joined for dinner by Erica Williams, Visual Information Specialist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
The students found the experience deeply inspiring for their project. Piper was struck by the dedication of Brigham and Williams, and the potential of art to change public opinion. "I’m taking Art History right now and we’re looking at protest posters,” they said. “ I know art can make a difference, art can bring people to consciousness, I hope to make something that’s visually compelling enough to get people to feel that."
The field trip also provided an opportunity for the students to bond with each other and enjoy nature."It was great to be somewhere different, to get out of the city and go someplace out in the woods,” Essence said. “The stars are really pretty. I took an outdoor shower at night, and I was looking at the Milky Way." Art Division Program Coordinator Nicole Berlanga also really enjoyed the trip. "What stood out was all the students,” she said. “I didn’t realize how valuable it was for them to be outside in nature and away from the city.It was really exciting to see how this project is about saving the sequoias but also how important nature is to the artists involved. And it was just really fun to hang out with everyone in a different environment."
The group, along with Art Division students Scar Maradiaga and Leslie Martinez, and Art Division Printmaking Instructor Victor Reyes, will continue working on the project through September 2023, culminating in a large-scale online public exhibition of their work by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park later in 2023. This collaboration showcases the power of art to raise awareness and inspire change, while also highlighting the importance of nature for creative inspiration.
Art Division Graphic Designer Guillermo Perez is also working with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park on a branding project, creating artwork and a logo for their tagline “Stand with Sequoias.”
On Saturday, April 8th, the Art Division library transformed into a social hub for the highly anticipated Mocktail Mixer. The event, which started at 4:30 pm, was open to all community members and promised "the freshest mocktails in town." Flyers scattered across the library and paint studio invited attendees to indulge in delicious beverages and engage in thought-provoking discussions about art and life in Los Angeles.
The Mocktail Mixer was an opportunity for Art Division students and staff to connect and unwind. Award-winning mixologist Ellie Herman, who by day serves as Art Division’s College and Career Coach, served as the mastermind behind the bar, creating bespoke, house-made specialties. The drink menu featured a creamy virgin pina colada and a sparkling hibiscus gem, both of which were a hit among the guests, causing Ellie to claim that she had won several more awards. Art Division student Luxe played a vital role in the success of the event, acting as the official taster and significantly improving the taste of the pina colada. In addition to their mixology contributions, Luxe kept the energy alive by curating the perfect playlist for the afternoon.
Students Eli Alejo, Jones Gutierrez, Gris Sanchez, Jenny Payan, Alexandra Gonzalez, Yearlin Itzep, Millie Ruiz, Merling Velasquez, Melissa Soriano, Jess Muñoz and Stephanie Cortez attended the Mocktail Mixer, accompanied by Art Division Program Coordinator Nicole Beranga and Special Programs Coordinator Luis Motta. Nicole played a crucial role in taste-testing the mocktails and keeping the conversation flowing. Luis arrived fashionably late, greeted with scattered applause. To break the ice, attendees discussed their dream lives, imagining where they would live and what they would do if they didn't have to work. The conversation quickly transitioned to the more serious topic of navigating life as young artists in Los Angeles. Many students expressed their eagerness to find a supportive artistic community, especially now that they were no longer in school.
Colectivé 41, Art Division's student-led artist’s group that centers work made by Black, Brown and Queer artists, took the opportunity to give a presentation about their work and the impact they aim to create. The passion and dedication exhibited by Colectivé 41 members inspired several guests to express interest in joining the collective. The Mocktail Mixer was such a success that Ellie finally had to shut off the lights to get everyone to leave. Several students appeared to be leaving the Art Division library with plans to continue the festivities at an afterparty.
The Mocktail Mixer proved to be a night filled with art, conversation, and connection, and may become a monthly event. The mixer's success is a testament to the ongoing commitment of the Art Division community to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for all those who dream of pursuing a life in the arts.
What’s the career pathway to becoming a graphic designer? Or an interior designer? Or a furniture designer? On Thursday, March 9, twelve Art Division students and staff members learned some answers to these questions and more when we walked three blocks down to visit Commune Design, a Los Angeles-based design studio with a reputation for holistic work across the fields of architecture, interior, graphic and product design.
Our group gathered in Commune’s conference room where, surrounded by images from one of the company’s current projects, we snacked on an exquisite chocolate-nut mixture designed just for Commune. There, the company’s founders, Roman Alonso and Steven Johanknecht, talked about their career pathways, both of which were surprisingly circuitous. Afterwards, several other Commune staff members talked about their career paths and answered student questions.
Students in the Art Division group were encouraged to learn that careers in design are often open to people with diverse professional backgrounds, and not exclusively those with degrees in design. “It was great to hear that real-world experience is really important on a career path,” Art Division student Leslie Martinez said. Art Division student Kristian Guerra, currently completing a degree in Graphic Design at Cal State Los Angeles, agreed. “It was really inspiring and nice to hear from designers and how they ended up where they are, as well as relieving and motivating to see them seek out local creatives from organizations and communities such as Art Division,” he said.
For Preston Alba, the staff member at Commune who coordinated our visit, that community outreach was important to their team. “We thoroughly enjoyed having Art Division visit our studio,” Preston said. “The students are curious and engaged and they have such an incredibly supportive faculty and alumni.”
After the meeting in the conference room, we took a guided tour of Commune’s studio, learning more about their unique, artisanal approach to design, which involves not only planning but actually creating and building furniture, fabric, door handles, dishware and more. Every aspect of a project is made with care, Roman Alonso told us, showing our group a set of plates whose color had been chosen after seven years of deliberation.
Our group was so delighted by the visit that nobody wanted to leave. Even after the tour, we stood outside on the doorstep, chatting excitedly about all that we’d learned. “Seeing their works, meeting their team, and seeing their office was really cool,” Kristian said. “Beyond professionally being interested in their internship opportunity for career development, I also felt welcomed. I would love to see and participate in other trips just like Commune.”
Preston Alba agreed. “Art Division has welcomed us into their community, and we can’t wait to find ways to work together,“ he said.
We are currently in conversation with Commune about creating a paid internship for an Art Division student at their studio.