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HeArt Project Students Create Opportunities Through Art

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A young woman sits in front of a green screen projecting street scenes from the San Fernando Valley. She tells us who she is, where she's from, and how old she is. She smoothes her hair across her forehead and shares her profound love for her baby girl, a smile beams from ear to ear. Just a teenager herself, she describes how her devotion to her daughter and a desire for more in life are motivating her to stay in school and get her high school diploma.

She along with her classmates from the Arleta Cal-S.A.F.E. continuation school created this video and neighborhood maps that take a deep and personal look at their community, as part of The HeArt Project's "Mapping the Metropolis: Finding the Heart of our City."

Arleta Cal-S.A.F.E. student

The goal of The HeArt Project is to help young people gain skills and confidence to negotiate the challenges of school and life and ultimately earn their high school diploma. With art, creativity and support, students are able to harness new opportunities and see a new future for themselves. Several workshops were held throughout the county with over 180 students participating.

The HeArt Project, in collaboration with Departures Youth Voices and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, recently held the second of three presentations showcasing the work developed by alternative and continuation high school students participating in the project's ten-week art workshops.

Students streamed into the gallery space at LA Plaza, enthusiastic to see their work as well as that of fellow students. Smiles and laughter accompanied their curiosity, followed by serene expressions of pride.

Mauro Zepeda looked happy and excited about being at the event. "I love the HeArt Project, it's such a great program that helps us know so much more about art and opens opportunities for us," he said. He was eager to read and hear his own project: a poem and audio presentation he created at Amelia Earhart Continuation High School.

Mauro Zepeda holds up his poem, "The Pad"

In his poem entitled "The Pad," Mauro takes us into his space and shares with us everything that makes it his:

The pad to the homeboy
Pad is where I chill
Chill'n in my room
Chill'n on my couch
Couch is where I relax
Couch is where I eat
Eat platanos y gallo pinto
Eat pupusas y tomo cholashampagne
Cholashampagne is Salvadorian soda
Cholashampagne is smooth and savory
Savory is the Latino culture

In/Other Los Angeles

In / Other Los Angeles book cover

Another group of students hovered over a collection of postcards featuring photographs taken by students from teaching artist Daniel Flores' class at the Hollywood Media Arts Academy and Joe Medina's photography class at Harvard-Westlake. Inside the cover of the book, a description informs the viewer about the project:

In/Other Los Angeles, is an ongoing collaborative exchange project amongst young artist in Los Angeles. Its focus is to create dialogue through the mediums of photography and creative writing based on young artist views on familiar and unfamiliar spaces within the city they call home.

The project was a collaboration between students from both schools, who corresponded with one another as pen pals, sharing photos of their respective spaces and neighborhoods. HeArt Project student Steven Valderrama shared his feelings about the
experience: "It was unusual to have a pen pal. But what made it interesting was that we were expressing ourselves through art not words. I had never done something like that."

The book is available to purchase at

Personal Maps

Maps ran throughout the exhibit. Personal Maps allow students to examine their neighborhood from a geographical, social, and personal level based on their memories and experiences. The activity redefines their neighborhoods through their eyes and offers it to the viewer as another perspective on a place we may think we know or recognize only as a freeway sign off ramp.


Below are more of the student's work:

Central High School Cypress Park students explored documentary writing
Student silkscreen
Student silkscreen

For more articles on The HeArt Project and their collaboration with Departures Youth Voices click HERE.

[In a previous version of the article Joe Medina's name was omitted as the photography teacher at Harvard-Westlake working in partnership with Daniel Flores from The HeArt Project]

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