November 17, 2017

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Kids Make Art for Social Justice in L.A. Museum-Library Partnership

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Art Without Walls participants respond artistically to the theme “how to end racism.”

With construction paper, markers, tape, and ribbon, children and families gathered at the Felipe de Neve Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) recently to pay tribute to important women in their lives.

Honoring literary figures such as Emily Dickinson, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and even members of their own family, the participants rolled their colorful messages into scrolls and attached them to a large cardboard tube as part of a collaborative art project.

Coinciding with Women’s History Month, the activity—Monument to Rad Women—was the third in a series of Art Without Walls events organized through a partnership between the LAPL and the Hammer Museum, affiliated with the University of California Los Angeles.

“It teaches you a lot about activism and equal rights,” said 10-year old Angel Ampofo, who has attended all three events and gathered up her friends to participate. “It’s fun and it brings the community together.”

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Maria Bartolome and eight-year-old Brandon Hernandez

Inspired by social justice issues and the work of artist Jimmie Durham, a visual artist, performer, writer and activist, the weekend, drop-in events included an art-making session at the library, located near the predominantly Latino McArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, followed by story readings and similar art activities at the Hammer, about 13 miles to the west. Each weekend has drawn a combined total of roughly 100 people at both locations.

“It’s bringing together two different parts of L.A.,” says Laurie Reese, the children’s librarian at the Felipe de Neve Branch and a trainer for the LAPL’s Hollywood region. Her branch was chosen so library patrons or museum visitors could easily take public transportation to participate at the other site.

aww_3In a small room off the main part of the Felipe de Neve  library, Reese has organized a wide selection of biographical picture books fitting this week’s theme and featuring influential women such as primatologist Jane Goodall, former First Lady Abigail Adams, civil rights activist Claudette Colvin, and even Wonder Woman. Some of the same books will be read the following day at the Hammer.
“You can do Athena,” Reese tells the children who have arrived, as she rushes out to get a book on a woman in mythology.

aww_2During the February event, participants stuck colorful hand prints to large sheets of black paper hanging on the double doors of the room and wrote messages about what they would do to end racism. Reese says one of the children told her to send a photo of the installation to President Trump and tell him “This is the wall we should be building.”

Art Without Walls was organized before the November election, but it has taken on an added significance with the President’s plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and place new restrictions on immigrants and refugees headed for the U.S.

“I really think it’s an opportunity for parents to talk about what’s coming up in the media,” says Sandy Rodriguez, an artist who helps to lead the activities.

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Artist Sandy Rodriguez

Walking between the round tables, Rodriguez suggests that the children start with a message to someone they know and then move on to a well-known figure they admire. The children, she said, were given the option of taking their work home or allowing it to be part of the larger installation so “it could inspire others who didn’t get to participate.”

The partnership will continue with new activities over the summer in connection with the Reading by Design theme from iRead. The Reading by Design concept challenges readers to nurture their own creativity and to be inspired by inventors, artists, builders, and, of course, authors and illustrators. The Art Without Walls series has also sparked for Reese more program ideas involving history, perhaps using Congressman John Lewis’s words from his graphic memoir trilogy “March” (Top Shelf) and developing events that include “young people finding their voice,” she says. “Each passing day there’s more meaning.”

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Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.

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