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Mapping L.A.'s Future at Frida Kahlo High School

Support Provided By
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Departures Youth Voices is proud to partner with La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in joining The HeArt Project on their mission to combat the high school drop out crises with arts programming that offers students a pursuable life path; inspiring them to stay in school and flourish as creative adults. Departures Youth Voices will feature stories on the work of the teaching artists and students through the academic year, showcasing the development of their projects and the presentation of their final pieces every ten weeks.

As students enter the campus of Frida Kahlo High School, they're immediately greeted by a burst of colors: a painted set of stairs, a mural depicting John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, and a large banner with a portrait of the school's namesake hanging off the rails of the second floor -- looking over the students like a funky earth mother. These no doubt serve as sources of inspiration for the students participating in the HeArt Project, offered as an after-school program on this campus near downtown L.A.

When I visited the classroom, the students were nearing the end of the 10-week session. They were busy preparing for their final presentation to be held at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes on November 2. Gustavo Alberto Garcia Vaca, the teaching artist for this session, has been exploring the theme of the project -- "Mapping the Metropolis" -- by introducing a new art technique at each of the previous class meetings. Vaca said, "[The theme] was very inspiring for them. Each week, I would introduce a different way to approach looking at their city and their neighborhoods -- right away, they would explore their own stories and visions of the city we all call home."

Pencil drawing, markers, creative writing, and collage were some of the mediums that the students used to explore themes like individual space, views of the future, and what their city -- Los Angeles -- means to them. When students were instructed to map their own personal space, one student drafted a topographical diagram of his bedroom populated with dressers and desks, while another drafted an abstract depiction of his space as a view from his desk, complete with a skyline view of a looming downtown megalopolis.

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Each student has a very unique perspective, to say the least. For an assignment that asked the students to depict Los Angeles in the future, student Nohemi, for example, created a collage of a dystopian L.A. in which summers are so hot that the entire city would be engulfed in flames, and personal meth labs will be a prominent source of income. Perhaps the future would not so different after all.

To create the collages, the students perused specific books and magazines brought in by Vaca, looking for "images of Los Angeles, world cultures, graphic design and current events that they can use," said Vaca.

Other themes explored and depicted in the students' artwork included a future in which we live on Mars, and Earth can be seen in the distance from the large windows of the cathedral-like structure that we would call home. Student Jasmine's world included flying sharks, and Fabiola depicted a society in which octopus is the dominant species, and Japanese pop culture has taken over the world.

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Vaca told me how his own work influences how he teaches his class:

With my own work I use various mediums, including painting, digital and writing. My work involves exploring new forms of communication and expression, working with graphic designers, musicians and live painters, as well as corporations and institutions. This, in turn, influences the teaching I do: through the theme of "Mapping the Metropolis," I open up the possibilities of using various mediums to express and explore one's place within one's surroundings.

The students at Frida Kahlo High School are turning the HeArt Project into a truly multi-media experience. With collages, drawings, slideshows, and a video piece expected to be some of the mediums chosen by the students for their final projects, the presentation will sure to be a stimulating, multi-sensory way to experience our metropolis.

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Photos by Yosuke Kitazawa

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