Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013

Visual Arts Education at Heart of Los Angeles

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA)

Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) is a non-profit organization that provides at-risk and underserved youth ages 6-19 living in Los Angeles with free exceptional after-school programming in academics, arts and athletics within a nurturing environment, empowering them to develop their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities. Since HOLA first opened its doors 24 years ago, thousands of elementary, middle and high school students have received superior academic support and enrichment activities that provide them with the tools they need to succeed. What began as a sanctuary from the streets for just a few kids is now a thriving 24,000 square foot campus serving 2,500 community youth each year. In HOLA’s Visual Arts program, over 250 students participate in 33 different visual arts classes each quarter, following a multi-level class structure that builds and advances with each successive session. This format allows young artists to progress in their skills and to build strong and lasting mentor/student relationships with their instructors. HOLA offers free classes in over 16 different art forms including ceramics, painting, drawing, screen printing, car design, printmaking, photography, architecture and fashion design. To broaden students’ appreciation for the arts, throughout the year staff engages youth in cultural field trips to museums, art institutes, private art collections, art studios and cultural landmarks, as well as curating four art shows a year featuring student work. HOLA’s Visual Arts continues to develop innovative programming that ever more deeply engages youth to explore and give back to their community. At the core of this goal is the Public Art Project, now embarking on its second year. The Public Art Project engages youth and the community through classes, workshops, artist talks, field trips and public installations in and around HOLA’s neighborhood. Each year, HOLA hires new artists or a collective to implement a public art-themed project during their residency. HOLA utilizes public art as a vehicle to connect established and emerging local artists to the Rampart and Westlake community and to collaborate with its members and LA organizations, using this culturally rich and diverse neighborhood as a canvas to create art. HOLA is located next to the prominent MacArthur Park, and has inspired dialogue in the park by designing creative and unique art installations. In its first year, artists Pearl C. Hsiung and Anna Sew Hoy collaborated with youth on We Are Talking Pyramids, a multimedia, multi-venue public art project drawing inspiration from the park and the personal histories and everyday experiences of the students. The Public Art Project exposes students to myriad art forms, engages guest artists throughout the year and encourages its students to draw inspiration through self-reflection and engagement in their environment, but reaches even beyond the experiences of HOLA’s students and artists. We Are Talking Pyramids culminated in a day of art and performance in conjunction with the LevittLA 50 Free Concerts at the Levitt Pavillion stage and various sites throughout MacArthur Park. The goals were to involve, activate and inspire local families and the community and to create new art in dialogue with the pre-existing public sculptures and murals in the park. Over 2,000 people were in attendance for the event, an incredible starting point for the nascent Public Art Project. The Visual Arts program is only one of HOLA’s nine innovative, structured and rigorous programs. HOLA’s elementary, middle school and high school programs are led by highly trained, credentialed teachers and supplemented with a wide variety of enrichment activities that include visual arts classes, a full youth orchestra and choir, private and group music lessons, premiere soccer and basketball leagues, leadership, language and culture classes. HOLA is committed to providing wrap-around services for all of its youth, from targeted homework help to counseling and family services. To promote mental health, strong families, academic achievement and emotional development, HOLA provides its most at-risk students and their families with exceptional intervention and counseling services and resources. HOLA also employs a Parent and Community Resource Director who works to support effective communication with parents and to promote parent involvement in all of HOLA’s youth development programs. HOLA’s Visual Arts program is a key component of a holistic approach to after-school enrichment. Its students receive not only a substantive arts education, but comprehensive support that helps them change their life trajectory and attain a pathway out of poverty. It is critical that HOLA continue to expand its programs and provide as many at-risk Los Angeles youth as possible with hope for a better life, a community that believes in them and a place they can call home.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

HOLA’s recent achievements include:

  • In the last academic year, 324 students participated in intensive art classes in a multi-level class structure that built and advanced with each session. Each quarter, HOLA offered the community 33 free visual art classes and 37 hours of professional art instruction.

  • HOLA’s Visual Arts students attended 19 field trips to museums, art institutions, art studios and more. HOLA also welcomed a diverse group of more than 36 visiting artists to its campus.

  • The first year of the Public Art Project culminated in a community-wide event in MacArthur park that brought together more than 2,000 community members.

  • In 2011, the completely renovated Lafayette Park Community Center reopened, an expansion that helped HOLA significantly increase the number of students served annually. Throughout its nine academic, enrichment and support programs, HOLA served 2,497 students in 2012, an increase of more than 60% from the prior year.

  • HOLA provided FREE programming six days a week all year long.

  • At the core of HOLA’s success is a strong team of volunteers. HOLA’s volunteer corps has grown to more than 700, 190 of which donated 10 hours or more in the last year alone.

  • The number of HOLA’s youngest students performing at or above grade level increased from 69% to 84%

  • While area high schools’ graduation rates often fall below 50%, HOLA saw 100% of its seniors graduate from high school and enroll in colleges and universities across the country.

  • The Alumni and Scholarship Program now supports over 150 alumni enrolled in 75 colleges and universities; of those students who began college in the last three years and participated in the formal Alumni Program, 93% are still enrolled in a two- or four-year institution.

  • This year, HOLA awarded more than $195,000 in college scholarships to 83 alumni and assisted these students in securing over $1,189,972 in State, Federal and Institutional Funds.

  • HOLA has consistently facilitated community engagement and helped to beautify and activate the Rampart neighborhood. In 2003, families were too scared to enter into the local park, but since HOLA partnered with LA City Recreation and Parks to bring unprecedented financial and programmatic resources, thousands of families now utilize Lafayette Park on a regular basis.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

HOLA’s Visual Arts partners include LACMA, MOCA, Otis College of Art and Design, U of C’s MFA Program in Public Art & Curatorial Studies, Levitt Pavillion, A+D Museum, Art Center College of Design, the Armory and OMG!

Partnership and collaboration are key to each of HOLA’s programs and HOLA continues to develop strong partners to help successfully carry out its mission to provide exceptional programs to the at-risk and underserved youth of LA. Through best-in-class partnerships with the Department of Recreation and Parks, the LA Philharmonic Association, LA Housing Partnership and the LA Lakers, HOLA is setting the standard for utilizing strong collaboration to build exceptional programs and services in under-resourced communities.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

HOLA places a significant value on program evaluation, using quantitative and qualitative methods to track the academic and personal progress of participants as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs. Program directors are responsible for the evaluation of each of the components of their programs on a quarterly basis - demographic, academic, economic and qualitative data is collected. HOLA also measures the emotional and mental health of the most at-risk students through assessments provided by HOLA’s counseling team who works with program directors and staff to assess needs, tracks progress and provides helpful feedback on how to best support each student. Through specific evaluation measures administered in a nurturing environment, HOLA staff witnesses improvement in academics followed by transformation in quality of life from hopeful to confident and better-prepared young adults.

One of the most important measures HOLA tracks over time is the number of students who successfully graduate from HOLA and how many return to HOLA to give back to this community. Beginning in elementary school, HOLA fosters an incredible environment in which students feel welcomed, challenged, heard and invested in. Through HOLA, students are finding a safe place to learn, aspire and escape the generational cycle of poverty and crime. HOLA is a family - a haven for those seeking a nucleus in which to belong. Because of this, HOLA has been able to maintain a 93% college retention rate of its current alumni and most of these eagerly return to HOLA to invest in and give back to the community that has given them so much. In fact, HOLA currently has eleven alumni on staff, including the Middle School Director and several program coordinators, as well as dozens of interns and volunteers who consistently give back while home from college. HOLA considers this one of the most significant indicators of long-term program impact and effectiveness.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Residing in the culturally rich, but economically struggling Rampart District, HOLA serves youth in one of the most densely populated areas in LA County, with over 75,000 residents within a 1.75-mile radius, 28% of which are under the age of 18. Latinos comprise the largest ethnic group in the community at 63% followed by Asian Americans at 26%. Of the families that HOLA serves, 90% are living at or below the poverty line and struggle each day to simply survive. As a result of these poverty levels and the dense and diverse population, this district is home to heavy violence, drug trafficking and over 30 active gangs that begin recruiting youth as young as 10 years of age. According to a LA Times report, during a recent 6-month period, 488 violent crimes were reported in HOLA’s neighborhood alone.

This at-risk environment is compounded by severe school budget cuts that have resulted in fewer critical services being offered to families in dire need. Students are attending overcrowded and understaffed schools that are unable to provide the individual support each student needs to successfully pursue their education. Many schools’ arts education programs have been devastated by the state and local budgetary crisis and unfortunately, “most of this decline in access has been concentrated in schools serving low-income students, the very population that can benefit most from quality arts instruction.” The National Endowment for the Arts reports that arts education for Latino and African-American students has declined by over 40% in the last twenty years. HOLA provides a rigorous arts program for youth right in the center of this impoverished neighborhood.

Access to arts education is a critical need for underserved students across LA. Engagement in the arts has proven to bolster academic achievement, supporting HOLA’s long-term aim to help all of its youth graduate high school and matriculate through college. As creative industries are the second largest business sector in LA, arts education is crucial in developing 21st century workforce skills.

HOLA’s Visual Arts is not simply an arts education supplement, but a structured and immersive program offering rigorous instruction, cultural field trips, guest artist workshops, and a firm reach into the larger LA community. Through initiatives like the Public Art Project, HOLA’s students, leading LA artists and community members are connected in new and meaningful ways. The Visual Arts program is operating at capacity, with a lengthy waiting list, but carries the potential to impact even more than HOLA’s 2,500 at-risk youth and their families, and to activate and create dialogue in parts of the city previously lacking access to the arts.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Art is in a constant state of discovery and experimentation, and the vision for HOLA’s Visual Arts program in 2050 reflects that. HOLA will continue teaching classic technique and art history, but will also strive to encompass yet unfathomable forms and directions. Over the last few years the Visual Arts program has added new classes such as public art, studio art, video, digital photography, performance and new media with the goal of constantly embracing contemporary themes and continuing to work with emerging and established artists. Each year, HOLA will continue to offer free classes, cultivate more cultural and artistic partnerships, expand its residency programs, create more public art installations and connect Los Angeles artists to the vibrant and culturally diverse community HOLA has already been part of for decades.

By 2050, HOLA will have an alumni network that spans 61 years of service. The alumni now benefiting from Visual Arts and the Public Art Project will be in their 50’s and 60’s, and with the demonstrated commitment of alumni returning to HOLA and giving back to their community, it is easy to anticipate that these young artists may be board members, staff and volunteers. They will all be creative thinkers, problem solvers and will have a great appreciation for the arts and civic engagement. The Public Art Project is actively creating a community of arts supporters.

The comprehensive support that each HOLA youth is receiving today helps them to attain long-term academic success, emotional development and commitment to revitalizing and supporting their community. It is HOLA’s aim to support each of these students in matriculating through college, and each year sees an even larger graduating class. If HOLA’s graduating class increases by only ten new students each year, by 2050 HOLA’s tracked alumni network will have expanded to 9,460, and we anticipate that this number will actually be exponentially higher. These youth are poised to be passionate and dedicated leaders; one member of HOLA’s Class of 2010 has already volunteered and interned in support of several Los Angeles politicians, and is actively working to establish the first Young Latino Democrats group in Los Angeles! HOLA looks forward to seeing incredible change affected by and in this community by 2050.