For One Evening, LAUSD Student Artists Included in Pacific Standard Time

Earlier this month, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the exhibition known as Pacific Standard Time moved its clock forward 30 years to include artists and performers from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Also known as PST, the exhibit is a first-of-its-kind, all-inclusive presentation of paintings, sculpture, short films and multi-media made in Los Angeles from 1945 to 1980. Initiated by the Getty Foundation and the Getty Research Institute, PST features a variety of stunning exhibits, categorized according to technique, style, geography, background, and artist associations, which are on display at cultural institutions in Los Angeles County, along with the Orange County and San Diego museums of art.

But from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on a cool, clear Saturday in early December, the Getty expanded the definition of PST to include showings of “Unlocking LA: Sub-cultural Efforts to Achieve Equal Access”-- which involved turning doors into artworks – that were created by current students from Chatsworth High School; a series of 11 short films around involving LA-based themes made by students at Dorsey High School; 31 photos taken by students attending the Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology; and three dance performances from students enrolled at the East Los Angeles Arts Academy.

An estimated 400 guests attended the special exhibit entitled, “LA Intersections: Student Artwork Inspired by Southern California Artists.”

“A program such as ‘LA Intersections’ demonstrates that students are capable of engaging with art history, artists, and contemporary issues in profound ways,” said Ami Davis, the Getty’s education specialist for school programs.

A phone call to Davis last year from Jane Patterson, director, Humanitas, for the Los Angeles Education Partnership, about working together to involve students directly in PST, eventually led to a group of them getting the opportunity to contribute their own work at one of the world’s premiere art museums.

“The minute I asked the Getty; they said ‘what an interesting idea, let’s talk about it,’ ” explained Patterson, who subsequently selected the schools to be involved with the project. Davis said the museum was intrigued by the opportunity to connect students today with the rich history of post-World War II art in Los Angeles.

“This put them into the lineage of artists working in Southern California,” she added.

Beatriz Magallanes photographed toys on Olvera Street that reminded her of her childhood.

During the initial phase of “LA Intersections,” the Getty held a one-day, intensive workshop for teachers about PST this past summer, a few months before the exhibit officially opened to the public. After PST was launched, the students and their teachers visited the museum to glean ideas for their own projects.

More than a year after that first conversation between Patterson and Davis, an audience of educators, proud parents, students, and their siblings, older and younger, and friends filled the Getty’s auditorium to watch three short dance performances by East Los Angeles Arts Academy, under the direction of Angela Weber. Two of the three pieces were inspired by “Blue Wall,” by John Mason (1959), and Peter Alexander’s “Cloud Box,” from 1966, both of which are included in PST, and the third represented various sculptures in the exhibit. The students chose the pieces to interpret after they visited the museum.

From the beginning of rehearsals in early November, Weber had used an unorthodox approach to help her students, grades 10-12, prepare for the performance. She asked them to fill silence with movement and imagine their own rhythms, while also seeking a common theme.

“They were used to dancing with counts,” said Weber, “but I told them they couldn’t use counts.”

The actual performances involved some music – including the instrumental backing to Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” – along with portions where the only sound was the movement of feet across a smooth wood surface.

The dancers were followed by a series of 11 brief films, ranging between 30 and 90 seconds in length, produced by the students in Robert Jeffers’ film class at Dorsey High School. In an interview, Jeffers, who also teaches English at Dorsey, said the concept was derived from “32 Short Films about Glenn Gould,” an acclaimed film about the late Canadian pianist that was released in 1993. “The assignment was to interpret art through film,” said Jeffers, adding that most of the work was based on pieces included within PST.

“The students now better understand the unique Los Angeles perspective in art,” he added. The shorts included witty, amped-up depictions of freeway travel, the beach, and classic Southern California neighborhoods.

A couple of floors above the auditorium, visitors to “LA Intersections” had the opportunity to view 31 photographs taken by students in Joan Dooley’s class at the Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology, located on the campus of Esteban Torres High School.

An hour before the formal opening of the student exhibit, Dooley was in a small back room at the Getty helping to remove photos from boxes. Stopping to admire the works, which represent in different ways the social, political and cultural life of East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, home to most of the students, she discussed the impact of this exercise on the budding photographers in her class.

“They were just taking snapshots when this started,” noted Dooley, who has taught photography in the LAUSD for 16 years. “They didn’t know how to make a photograph communicate.” But the veteran teacher said that within a few weeks, “they made huge leaps and bounds in learning to express themselves in another way.” Their education was bolstered by the acclaimed Santa Monica-based artist Eileen Cowin, who, through an arrangement with the Getty, conducted two workshops at the museum for the students.

One of the students, Beatriz Magallanes, walked around numerous neighborhoods in search of just the right scene or subject to photograph. Like the theater director who knows who she wants for the role but just can’t quite articulate it, Magallanes waited patiently for the ideal candidate.

She discovered the elusive answer one day on Olvera Street; Mexican toys.

“The toys are part of my culture,” she said. “They brought back memories.” Having found her subject, Magallanes, who had taken few pictures to that point, came to a new and rather daunting realization about photography.

“I thought it was going to be easy,” she said. “But being a photographer is really hard. You have to know exactly when to take the photograph.”

Another of Dooley’s students, senior Nathaniel Ojeda, contributed a photo that depicted the small figure of a friend skating in the lower left-hand corner of the frame, against a brilliant sky blue backdrop. Ojeda, who has an interest in pursuing a career in photography, modestly described his intriguing photo as “sort of an accident.”

He is overwhelmed that his contribution is shown at the Getty. “It’s astonishing to have it in the same building that features so many great artists,” said Ojeda.

Marla Cole said, working on the door about how seniors are treated in society "took a lot of dedication."

The photos shared space with four doors – out of 26 – that received the most votes from visitors during the two days that they were displayed in the Chatsworth High School auditorium. Teams of 4-6 students created the pieces. According to Kathie Donner, visual arts teacher at Chatsworth High School, the idea and execution of the doors were inspired by the work of Southern California artist Betye Saar, and James Ensor, whose 1889 painting entitled “Christ’s Entry into Brussels” is part of the Getty’s collection.

The museum’s website said of the work: “Ensor’s Christ functioned as a political spokesman for the poor and oppressed – a humble leader of the true religion…” The political dimension is apparent on each of the doors created by the Chatsworth students. Students were asked to select a “subculture” – African-Americans, the disabled, seniors, Latinos, women, gays, etc. – and depict on one side of the door various negative stereotypes about the group, and, on the other side, positive images.

Saar, who was born in Los Angeles in 1926, is known for creating works that involve arranging found objects within boxes and windows. Her pieces frequently depict aspects of her own mixed heritage; African, Native American, Irish and Creole.

Donner actually went out on her own and solicited doors for the exhibit, from various sources, which saved money for the school district and time and effort for her students.

The student teams worked steadily for weeks on their projects, including time spent after school. As a collective, the doors make a profound statement on cultural and political attitudes in contemporary society, the good and the bad, in Southern California and beyond. The entire group of doors is stored in a large, empty room on the Chatsworth campus; Donner hopes to display them at other venues.

On the day of the exhibit, Donner, with the help of friends, loaded the four doors that received the highest number of votes into a U-Haul truck, and transported them from the Valley to the Getty. As the hour approached for the exhibit to officially open, she and the student teams were in a back room at the museum, busily reassembling various items on the doors for their Getty Museum debut.

One of the students, Marla Cole, was putting some final touches on her door, entitled “You Are Only as Young as You Act (Senior Citizen),” which finished in a tie for second place. Assessing her experience, Marla spoke for many of the contributors from the four schools.

“I feel very accomplished,” she said. “This showed me that someone who isn’t artsy can make art after all.”



*Photo Caption: Nathaniel Ojeda said he was honored that his photo of his friend skate boarding was displayed in the Getty Museum. 



Click here to view more photos.



By: Tom Waldman
Posted: December 8, 2011