Editor’s note: The writer is curating a project for The Music Center and previously worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Karina Yánez spent most of her high school years looking forward to spending time in her room creating. Every day after classes, she would sew or paint or make a sculpture.
But when she told her college counselor that she wanted to apply to art school, the answer was: don't waste your time.
Yánez went ahead with her plan anyway, applying to around 14 art schools and getting into almost all of them. Looking back now, she realizes that the question of why kids don't get encouraged to pursue an art education isn't about one individual — it's a more systemic lack of communication, access and information.
She attended a charter school in South Central Los Angeles and realized, over time, the many opportunities she missed out in terms of visiting art spaces and participating in educational programs. After getting a master's degree from RISD and another one from Claremont College — both focusing on art education — she started working in the classroom space. But she knew that she could make the biggest impact outside of it.
When the website for Greetings from South-Central went live in 2017, it focused on being an archive of arts and culture offerings for families in the area. Yánez then started coordinating field trips, not only taking students to these spaces but also working with families on how to get a TAP card and how to navigate the Metro to get there.
The organization officially launched in 2018 and received non-profit status earlier this year. Many of its events include both English and Spanish invitations to participate.
"I grew up in South Central, so that's obviously like that's kind of at the forefront of all the work I do," Yánez tells "Artbound." "We are experiencing lots of changes in our community. A lot of them are really rapid, right, due to gentrification and things like that. And then, after the unfortunate death of Nipsey Hussle, there's been an extra set of eyes, if we want to call it that — extra attention has been hyper-focused in this community."
Yánez often regrets her earlier educational years. She wished she knew more about the offerings museums had for students — like LACMA's NexGen program, which offers free memberships for youth under 17 years old living in Los Angeles — and about the art programs she could have participated in during her summer breaks. She explains that there's already so much culture and arts in South Central, but that it's not always known in a widespread way.
We're still forgetting about all these other schools and all these other neighborhoods within South Central.Karina Yánez
"Part of the inequity that I was noticing was [that] parents didn't really know where to look if they wanted to find out about organizations or even just local things like arts and culture things that exist in our neighborhood. And I found that just telling them to do like a simple Google search wasn't enough. Even now, [only] people who are really sort of in the arts and culture sector know about Art +Practice, right?" says Yánez. "People who already are sort of embedded in the art world — and that sort of scene — are the ones that attend gallery openings and things like that."
Yánez wanted to find "different ways to make these spaces a little bit more inclusive and accessible to families." She also started thinking about how to make this information and these resources available to educators as well. She says teachers are often swamped with day-to-day responsibilities and Greetings from South-Central is a way to ease their workload while also highlighting the opportunities L.A.'s rich creative scene offers for young learners. Now, the nonprofit hosts free classes virtually for a range of ages from transitional kindergarten to high school, and works with schools free of charge; educators can also opt in to a listserv to become more involved with the organization.
The Los Angeles County Arts Commission conducted a survey of teaching artists and art organizations starting in the winter of 2013 through 2014 to see how involved arts partners are in L.A. County schools. It named some of the top community arts partners, which included major institutions such as The Music Center, Autry Museum and Skirball Cultural Center as well as organizations like P.S. Arts and CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP). Out of those who participated in the survey, "nearly half of all community arts partners charge schools for their services at least some of the time" and a little more than 50% focused on "visual art or music/opera."
Yánez, however, also noticed that many art organizations tend to work with the same few schools in South Central multiple times, failing to expand their reach within the area.
"We're still forgetting about all these other schools and all these other neighborhoods within South Central," says Yánez. "South Central is so big. We're forgetting about these other regions that are often neglected."
José Chavez-Verdusco, a volunteer teaching artist who helps with Greetings from South-Central's high school program, found out about the organization via Instagram. Chavez-Verdusco lives on the East Coast and comes from a family of working class immigrants.
He remembers a Ryman Arts after-school program that "filled a gap in terms of access to art education" in his Sun Valley high school. It prompted him to pursue art in undergrad and seeing Yánez wanting to give that access to her community resonated with him.
"I connected with that because my parents never had time to take me to an art museum, Chavez-Verdusco tells "Artbound." "They might have known some artists but I never went to an art museum until I was 18."
Greetings from South-Central is working to bridge this gap by offering a creative career pathways program that focuses on sharing knowledge with high school juniors and seniors about art careers along with helping them build their portfolios. Artists also spend time with the students, discussing their work and also larger topics; a recent visit from Chicago-based artist Yvette Mayorga covered "some of the challenges of attending a traditional painting program," her grad school experience, rejection and more, according to a recent Instagram post. The program helps not just with portfolios but also with the writing portion and talking about financial aid.
Students deserve opportunities to empower themselves with their education.Rhombie Sandoval
"I believe our students show up because so many practicing artists visit our class," Rhombie Sandoval, another volunteer teaching artist working with Greetings from South-Central, tells "Artbound." "While they present their artwork, they also highlight the struggles they have overcome in the process."
Chavez-Verdusco says he, Sandoval and Yánez are transparent about past challenges like "being caught off guard when we first go to some of these institutions and we realize that there aren't that many faculty and students of color."
A student in Hawthorne told Yánez that she'd been "frantically trying to look for art programs" and hadn't found any until she learned about Greetings from South-Central. She joined the group but Yánez says it was also important to give that student information about other organizations as well, so she could know about all her possible opportunities.
"Students deserve opportunities to empower themselves with their education," Sandoval says. "High schools tend to assume that high expectations equal high achievements, yet they never really stop to ask their students what it is that they want to achieve. Karina has created a program that allows each student to chase their curiosity."
As the organization continues to grow and more institutions reach out, Yánez has strived to take a more intentional approach with partnerships.
"I need it to be and feel genuine, not just like, you know, for them [to be] saying that they're working with a bunch of Black and Brown kids from South Central," says Yánez.
The organization partnered with the Corita Art Center to create a zine corresponding to Corita Kent's "Heroes and Sheroes" series. It included a virtual workshop and pick-up locations at Hank's Mini Market and Cruzita's Deli and Café in Huntington Park.
Just recently, a student shared that they got into the school they wanted to attend, and another got a scholarship from Otis College of Art and Design. "That was worth everything that we do," says Chavez-Verduzco.
"This is truly important for many of us because we may have needed your support that maybe not many of our peers would give," Helen, a student at Orthopaedic Hospital Magnet Medical High School told the organization. "I hope this goes on for many years to come for future artists or those that want to learn about the arts."