Education

Why this professional artist enlisted the help of public school students instead of gallery assistants

Craft in America education coordinator Brenda Cruz helps hang up flowers made by Clinton Middle School students.
Craft in America education coordinator Brenda Cruz helps hang up flowers made by Clinton Middle School students.
Carla Javier/KPCC

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Teachers and students around Los Angeles are using the citywide art collaboration, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, in lessons and projects.

But the students from Clinton Middle School are taking it a step further: They're not just studying the art in the exhibits open to the public around southern California – they're making it, too.

The students made white flowers and decorated them with beads, wires, and thread, with help from the PBS series Craft in America's educational outreach program.

Then, they presented these flowers to artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood

Jimenez Underwood usually works with fibers, but this time, she painted a wall in the Craft in America gallery, off 3rd Street in Los Angeles. There’s a line that goes through the middle, representing the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

"We're gonna put these flower spirits on the wall to help the flowers and the little critters survive this chaos," the artist told the students. 

After explaining why they chose the decorate their flowers the way they did to Underwood, the students placed their flowers on both sides of the border.  

The artist had created similar border-related projects before, on her own and with the help of gallery assistants.

Fiber artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood listens as students from Clinton Middle present the flowers they made for an exhibition.
Fiber artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood listens as students from Clinton Middle present the flowers they made for an exhibition.
Carla Javier/KPCC

This time, she said incorporating the students' work changed the project, and gave her hope.

She said she sees the collaboration as creating "a new generation of little Consuelitos working with border issues on a peaceful way, without the angst and the drama that usually surrounds the subject matter."

Sixth grader Alexi Hernandez said by working on the project, she learned new art techniques and engaged in interesting conversations about the border.
Sixth grader Alexi Hernandez said by working on the project, she learned new art techniques and engaged in interesting conversations about the border.
Carla Javier/KPCC

One of those students was sixth grader Alexi Hernandez. Her flower featured two hearts. She said one stood for love, and the other stood for peace.

"I think ... whatever side you're on it should be equal and it should be the same, no matter what," she said. "Everybody should have love and peace in their life."

Not only did students engage in discussions about the border, they also learned about themselves as arists.

Eighth grader Deija Dukes said she was excited to talk to a practicing artist, and to have art displayed in a public exhibition.
Eighth grader Deija Dukes said she was excited to talk to a practicing artist, and to have art displayed in a public exhibition.
Carla Javier/KPCC

Eighth grader Deija Dukes said she has always wanted to be an artist when she grows up. But, lately, she felt discouraged.

That is, until she presented her flower to Jimenez Underwood for inclusion in the exhibition, which is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a citywide collaboration headed by The Getty. 

"I was like, 'Wow, she did something really cool,' and I feel like I can do that too," Dukes explained.    

The final exhibition, which is on display until January 20, will also feature contributions by students from Fairfax High.