Summer Arts Workshop Explores How Community Shapes Identity

In August, CFA’s Marital and Family (Art) Therapy (MFTH) Department held its 10th Annual Summer Arts Workshop. The young workshop participants were middle school students who collaborated with MFTH faculty members over the course of the week to explore and express their experiences and personalities through art. The effort combined a number of artistic techniques to create a truly stunning group exhibition that was showcased at a reception on the last day of the workshop. We spoke to workshop director and MFTH faculty member, Jessica Bianchi, to learn more about this year’s program.

What was the focus of the workshop?

Our goal this year was to explore how community shapes identity and how our identities can shape community. As we usually do with this program, we feel that it is important for adolescents to develop the ability to express who they are and why they feel they are the way they are. We also wanted to use photography – a media we have not explored in prior years – to combine digital technology with more traditional fine art techniques such as collage and pastel.

Who were the students involved?

We welcomed middle school students from Dolores Mission Middle School located in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles. The school is located in what was once the poorest mission in the city. Students are primarily Latino first and second generation immigrants from Central America whose families are facing adversity.

What were the goals of the workshop?

This year, we did something slightly different in that the program included a pre- and post- workshop, where in years past it has just been in the summer. The goals here were to continue to build on the connection between the Dolores Mission Community and the LMU community. We began the project in June by inviting participants, along with a family member or friend, and asked them to create altered books that conveyed an important story about themselves in their community – this was then celebrated at a community library. We used this information to inform the summer project where we dove more deeply into how community stories impact our identity.

Describe the art produced over the week.

The kids created art pieces that were thoughtful, intentional, and skillful. They also verbalized an understanding of the concepts that we were attempting to share. Together they created a shared story using words that described their art piece – the story exemplifying their thoughts about increased understanding they had for themselves and their peers. Also, the story conveyed a shared belief that the collaborative process of making art created a sense of belonging with peers.

Ultimately, what was the outcome?

Outcomes have been great thus far. We held a culminating event in September, where participants could present their artwork back at Dolores Mission and share techniques learned in the summer workshop with community members to create a large-scale collaborative art piece that will be showcased at the school. This shared sense of purpose creates powerful connections that we hope to build on in years to come!


*video credit to Amber Cromwell

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