This beautiful, quaint artist village houses resident artists in a row of converted bungalow-style homes on a property nestled in the middle of a bustling neighborhood near the Wilshire District, not far from Downtown Los Angeles.
At first glance, passersby may not even realize how much hidden beauty is just behind these walkways... partially because of the vast array of plant species that grow all over the property, all donated from residents and visitors (starting with actor Jeff Bridges in 1969, when he donated the first 2 plants).
Walking from the street down one of the three connected driveways to the back of the complex, you'll see the entire ground is covered in artwork, painted by both the children of the neighborhood and visitors who've come from all over the world.
At the back of the complex behind the 5 street-facing bungalows, sits what used to be the horse stables of Mary Pickford (the famous silent movie-era actress); the full length of the building was converted into a studio workshop and gallery where children are invited to come, create, and explore!
The complex was founded by Roderick and Rozzell Sykes, nephew and uncle respectively, both successful visual artists. In 1969, they, along with other artists, decided to present their work as a group and in their own environment - this was the birth of St. Elmo Village as an art space. Although Rozzell passed in 1994, Roderick expanded the reach of the village, promoting and encouraging youth to get and stay involved with creative expression. He, along with his wife and fellow artist-in-residence Jacqueline Alexander-Sykes, continue to do so today.
After eating lunch in the garden, taking the tour of the Village and visiting the gallery, it was time to get to work. We arranged for a collage session, and entered the workshop ready to create! Parents and kids alike all got to work (except for me, forever in photographer mode).
I must admit: I was worried that the older kids may not have been as excited about participating in such a "kiddie" activity; but two things changed that perspective. First, all of the adults were making collages, having fun, and even getting to let their "inner child" out to play. (We were all silly and the moms loved it!)
Second, it allowed me an opportunity to involve technology. The workshops are normally "cell phone-free zones", where everyone is encouraged to leave the texting and Snap-chatting for later, and enjoy a more traditional level of creativity; however, I enlisted volunteer photographers to help me capture the key moments of our day, farming out my Canon DSLR and iPad for random spot videos and photo-taking demos. (In fact, more than 2/3 of the photos taken for this Spark and in our Flickr album were taken by our students!)
Cory, the young man in the photos below, wasn't really inspired to create a collage, opting to cover his board with a bright gold metallic paper. By the time we wrapped our workshop, he had created another board with silver, and commenced to experimenting with how reflected light changes photo composition!
I would say that overall, the experience was exceptional - most students said they couldn't wait to come back! They shared what the made, but more importantly, they shared why they made what they made, what motivated them, and what they wanted to say. A few students said they felt like they wanted to learn more about art in general; two said they wanted to get "real" cameras to learn more about photography!
Over the next few weeks, we plan to show the students how they can use their newfound creative and photography skills in online tools like Adobe Spark. In the meantime, I hope that they have other opportunities like this, in their schools, at home, wherever they are to be creative, nourish their inner artistry, find new ways to express themselves... and I hope to continue to be able to be a part of that. There really is no bigger joy... or amazing beauty.