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EAST LOS ANGELES : Summer Art Project to Resume This Year

January 09, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

A successful summer program through Self-Help Graphics that brought art programs to teen-agers will likely operate again this year.

The Arts Recovery Program, funded with $100,000 from the California Arts Council, was put together with only two weeks' notice last June, said Tomas Benitez, assistant to the director at Self-Help, 3802 Brooklyn Ave.

Writer and performance artist Ruben Guevara recruited artists to teach the eight-week program and went into the neighborhoods to persuade teen-agers to participate. About 500 youths took part.

"A program this broad had never been offered to the kids in the projects, and they didn't believe (that it would happen)," Guevara said. "It was a matter of getting their confidence. Once the murals started going up, they started believing."

Guevara hired 15 artists and set up classes that met over 18 weeks during the summer in poetry, painting, photography and other subjects. The program was developed after the 1992 riots and started that summer with youths in South-Central. Last summer, it expanded to the Eastside.

Guevara and Benitez documented the program, videotaping workshops and producing a booklet that contained poems and rap songs. Self-Help presented the youths' work in October. Paintings were displayed, poets recited their works, and rappers performed their songs. Photographs and a documentary produced during the program were shown.

"The opening was great, because the parents came and saw their (children's) artwork up on the wall like in a real gallery," Benitez said. The program paid off in other ways too, because the youths who participated have come around more often for other events at the gallery, he said.

The program also helped youths paint six murals in five weeks, in and around housing projects.

The murals combine elements familiar to the youths, such as graffiti, ancient history, Mexican history, and prison and gang themes. The painting at Aliso Village on Via Francesca, for example, depicts Christ offering his heart, which is on fire. The Christ figure was brushed on, and the rest of the mural was spray-painted.

Guevara hired artists from the projects, such as poet Alma Cervantes, who grew up in Maravilla, and painter Juan Munoz from Ramona Gardens. Most of the youths, from those 12 and younger to those in their early 20s, had never taken classes in mural design or other art forms, Guevara said, but proved to be powerful artists when they were shown the basics of expressing themselves.

"I saw the (program) as a giant composition project, as a huge mural," Guevara said. "Having the kids working from the projects to express themselves, their views, was like a real-life theatrical performance piece."

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