A five-year, $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation will make it possible for Occidental College to widen its network of community partners in Northeast LA and expand its arts education programs to enhance local residents’ engagement with the issues that matter to them.

Much of the new programming fostered by Oxy Arts, the College’s public-facing community arts hub located on York Boulevard in Highland Park, will be developed and delivered through a series of collaborations with local arts organizations, educators, teaching artists, and Los Angeles Unified School District.

Focused on underserved public-school students, the arts education initiative will involve Occidental students in providing a wide range of opportunities, from visual art and dance workshops to theater, that develop creative solutions for the daily struggles facing their neighborhoods.

“By modelling a community-centered approach to arts education—and art making—we hope that Oxy Arts and its partners will be regarded as accepting and accessible spaces that increase exposure to and participation in the arts for all community members,” says Meldia Yesayan, Oxy Arts director.

“Northeast LA has long been a center for the arts,” Yesayan says. “From the turn-of-the-century Arroyo craftsman movement to the Chicano Arts movement, the arts are a defining aspect of this community. Access to culture is an essential feature of a healthy and vibrant community, and we hope this initiative not only provides greater access to arts education but enhances the visibility of local artists.”

The Oxy Arts building, located a block south of the Occidental campus, opened in May with local artist Debra Scacco’s “Compass Rose,” which reinterpreted historic Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of the area with the stories of 32 community members who live and work within its boundaries. Those stories of long-time Highland Park residents were shared with Occidental students as part of an ongoing NELA Stories oral history program.

The Mellon-funded Oxy Arts education initiative will include:

  • A summer residency program for Los Angeles-based artists. The program, free and open to the public, will be based on last summer’s 10-week residency by L.A.’s iconic Bob Baker Marionette Theater, which attracted more than 1,200 children and parents for a free, weekly marionette show performances and a series of weekly interactive workshops.
  • ColLABorate, a student-led multidisciplinary arts workshop series for elementary and middle school students. Based on a 2017-18 pilot program, ColLABorate will make it possible for a small team of Oxy students to create a curricular plan and syllabus, then co-lead an after-school multidisciplinary arts workshop series for 15-20 elementary and middle school students.
  • A student Internship program for local arts nonprofits. To be offered during the academic year and over the summer, the internship program will make it possible for Oxy students to learn about and support community-based arts programming.
  • Regular outreach to local activists, artists, community arts organizations, local schools and other key players. “Creative approaches and personal connections are needed to reach out to our local schools, recreation/youth centers, direct service organizations and others who have low access or do not believe that the arts are for them,” Yesayan says. “We need to remain open to the needs of our community, to other formats and new community partners.”

The grant will also fund a new arts education specialist at Oxy Arts, a full-time employee who will manage all the day-to-day activities related to this initiative.