SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY FARM TOWN INSPIRES URBAN ART STUDENTS (AND VICE VERSA) Los Angeles-based Otis College Creates Public Art Together with Residents of Laton, CA
Laton LIVE! on March 21 To Showcase Creative Collaboration
LOS ANGELES, CA, March 2, 2009 -- A small farming community in the San Joaquin Valley is the focus of a multidisciplinary art and design project developed by Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Laton, California will be the subject of a unique art installation - celebrating the town and its residents - premiering on March 21, 2009.
Led by Suzanne Lacy, noted artist, author and Chair of the Otis Graduate Public Practice program, Otis students traveled to Laton in August 2008 to explore how art could support local agendas and contribute to the small and struggling rural community. The San Joaquin Valley is known for having some of the highest poverty and school drop-out rates in the nation, as well as poor air quality. Lacy, born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley, was familiar with both the problems and opportunities in the Central Valley. Consuelo Velasco, Manager of Otis Graduate Public Practice, grew up on a small farm in Laton and has focused her own Master’s research on art in rural contexts.
Otis students accustomed to life in a large metropolitan area found them selves examining global problems in an unfamiliar rural setting. “This is an immersion course leading our students to a consideration of the cultural, economic and identity issues in one of the most misunderstood and “invisible” areas of the Golden State,” said Samuel Hoi, President of Otis College of Art and Design.
Working with Laton residents (population 1,200), local organizations, and public schools, Otis students and faculty identified two important concerns: supporting youth in civic engagement, and building community pride. The collaboration resulted in art projects that will soon be seen all over town, including:
Signs of Welcome
When Otis student Bosuel Kim arrived in America, the first town she saw outside of Los Angeles was Laton. After meeting Laton High School Metal Shop teacher Dale Costa, she learned that the Welcome to Laton sign had been removed by vandals, and she set to work designing a unique new sign, now under construction by high school students.
A series of photographic projects are in motion, including free family portraits taken at Christmas by Otis student Shatto Light. Raul Vega, Los Angeles-based fashion and celebrity photographer, is also working to create a series of portraits of local residents. Vega, born and raised in nearby Reedley, California, says “Now that I’ve been away I have a different perspective. I can see an austere beauty in Laton, a naturalness between the people and the land, creative people with vision and good intentions.“
Painting the Town
Enlivening the center of Laton, student and muralist Roberto Del Hoyo has decided to literally paint the town. Local merchants are cooperating in the colorful “face lift,” all done by volunteer labor. In exchange, local residents are given coupons for exchange at another artist/community project, the Laton Free Store.
The Town is a Stage
“If there is a blank wall on the main street, expect it to be alive with large scale scenes of life in Laton, from dancing to cooking, working to welcoming,” says Kate Johnson, Otis faculty member and video producer who is working with students and residents on a site-specific installation: 8 wall- sized video projections of Laton residents who are, in effect, opening their doors to the surrounding region.
The culmination of this public practice project is a free, one-time art event, Laton LIVE!, to be held in downtown Laton at sundown on March 21, 2009. Laton’s main street will be closed to traffic, and the two-block-long downtown will be transformed with lights, live music, art displays and food, including a local favorite - grilled Portuguese sausage. In addition, the Lions Club will sell tickets to the Laton Rodeo, and the all-volunteer fire department will celebrate its 100 Year Anniversary.
“In the face of the Wall Street meltdown, the help-your-neighbor values of rural life and the resiliency of local Main Streets gives us hope,” says Lacy of the project. “We are getting as much, or more, out of this association as the residents,” says Otis student Nathalie Sanchez, who has worked with farm workers near Bakersfield as part of an earlier college service project. “Through programs like this, students learn how to address complex social relationships—after all, creativity is an important part of community development.”
Otis Connects: San Joaquin Valley is part of Otis College’s Public Practice Graduate Program and the Integrated Learning Program. The San Joaquin Valley project has been partially funded by a planning grant from the Ford Foundation.
Otis Connects: San Joaquin Valley is part of Otis College’s Public Practice Graduate Program and the Integrated Learning Program. The San Joaquin Valley project has been partially funded by a planning grant from the Ford Foundation. More information on youTube
MFA Public Practice
San Joaquin Valley Intitiative
College Students from Los Angeles Make A Difference in Laton by Heather Halsey
from the Hanford Sentinel, February 15, 2009
One of the students, Boseul Kim, moved to the United States from her home in Korea just weeks before coming to Laton.
"I'm still getting used to the town; I've only lived in big cities, but there's obviously something really interesting here," Kim said.
Though they attend an art school, the students have their sights set on leaving behind something much bigger than public art projects. Suzanne Lacy, chairwoman of Otis' Graduate Public Practice program, said their lofty goals include leaving behind better youth development programs and a healthier community as well as reinvigorating the notion of a Laton community center.
"The purpose is to bring people together to see how the project that we're doing and the energy we're investing can be used for the health and well-being of the community," said Lacy during a community meeting on Feb. 5. The group has been using Laton United Methodist Church as their home base to meet with members of the community and plan projects such as their "FreeStore," which is based on the bartering system and their final event, a block party that will take place on March 20. At the Feb. 5 meeting local business owners, citizens, artists, educators and students gathered to ponder the lasting impacts of the San Joaquin Valley Project.
The project began with the idea of finding creative solutions to some of the vast and growing problems facing the Central Valley. A $150,000 planning grant from the Ford Foundation made the project possible.
Otis' program manager, Consuelo Velasco Jr., grew up in Laton and wanted to explore the complex issues facing a community of its size. This project has been the basis for her master's research for the University of Southern California's Public Art Studies program on Art in Rural Contexts.
"This is the implementation of my thesis, to look at programs and artists that are working within the context of a rural community and see how and what happens," Velasco said.
When her students are in Laton working on the project, they live in the Victorian home that belongs to her parents. Velasco said she has always wanted to use the house as an artist's residence to make it easier for artists to come and stay in Laton. As Velasco grew up she dreamed about adding color to the walls of Laton.
"I always wanted to paint murals here, but I struggled because of the bureaucracy," Velasco said.
Velasco's dream of seeing murals on the beige walls of Laton will come true, as will several other projects.
The students have worked to breathe new life into the businesses on De Woody Street by painting their exterior walls brilliant colors, instead of the beige they have been for years.
One of the students, Michelle Glass, said she was amazed when she saw the transformation that has already taken place.
"I drove up yesterday and saw it for the first time and just stared at it," Glass said. "It's made such a change to those buildings."
The walls have all been painted by volunteers within the community. Glass said she remembers one day when they were out painting and a local dairy owner stopped. After he found out what they were doing, the dairyman donated paint and helped fix an awning on one of the buildings.
Along with the painted walls the group will leave behind their "FreeStore," which is housed in the church and provides donated apparel, shoes and household goods for those in need. They are still working out the details, but most likely residents will be able to donate their time working in the store in exchange for items.
During their time in Laton the students have met, interviewed, photographed and recorded video of several families and community members.
Angie Mosher, site director for the Laton Activity Center, has been involved in the project since it began. She has lived in Laton her whole life, and her family's story has been included in some of the videos. Mosher was able to see them projected on a wall at the Laton Lions Hall.
"When I saw my mom and dad's story on the wall I stood there and read it and I cried," Mosher said. "Personally, it was nice for me and I'm sure every other family felt that, too."
The videos will also be used during the culmination of the project at the celebration of Laton in March. Two blocks of Laton's main road, De Woody Street, will be closed to vehicles from sundown to midnight to allow for live entertainment and people to fill the streets and interact with their neighbors. The videos and photographs that the students have gathered will be projected onto the building's walls.
The Otis students have also worked with the community to design a welcome sign and two murals; one will be painted at the elementary school and another on the side of a store on De Woody Street.
Students like Paige Tighe found their inspiration for the various projects from interacting with Laton residents.
"This community has been feeding us and spending time with us after work," Tighe said.
She and many of the other students said they felt as if they were on a reality TV show when they first moved into the house.
Tighe, who hails from Minnetonka, Minn., said that for her moving to Laton was like "coming home."
"Instead of feeling overwhelmed by Laton, I was very comforted," she said.
Another student, Glass, who hails from the Los Angeles area, said she had to adjust to the small town, but did so quickly.
"We were thrown into this house with eight other strangers in an unfamiliar town," she said. "Thankfully we all get along and have similar ideas."
She said that she has formed strong bonds with the people of the community and has been welcomed into their homes on several occasions.
"I think we just fell in love with it [Laton]; there's not very many small towns that haven't been touched by development," Glass said.
Although their project will come to an end in March, Glass said she thinks they will always be connected to Laton.
"There's a couple of students who want to come back and work on their own individual projects," Glass said.