Community Engagement and Dialogues on Social Justice Through Art: CSUDH University Art Gallery and PRAXIS Program support Hispanic Artists
California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) is embedded in the South Los Angeles community, with a long history of reaching out to underserved populations. It is currently one of the most diverse public university campuses in the United States, and in 2020 it was ranked by Hispanic Outlook as one of the Top 100 Schools for Hispanic Students (25th rank for Bachelor’s Degrees and 54th rank for Master’s), as well as the 35th University with highest enrollment of Hispanic students in the nation. CSUDH serves many students who are the first in their families to attend college, and it was ranked 10th in CollegeNet’s national Social Mobility Index in 2020.
CSUDH is nationally recognized for its service learning programs, where students apply their learning to community projects. Its PRAXIS art engagement program is a key example of this: it is a unique effort to engage deeply with the South L.A. community on many levels and through various avenues. Founded in 2016, this extracurricular, cross-disciplinary program brings artists, designers, students and community members together to explore the history, social conditions, neighborhoods and storylines of South Los Angeles. Through artist-in-residence programs, exhibitions and public programming, PRAXIS has created a public space that enhances local culture and expands dialogues about art and design in the community.
The PRAXIS program is co-directed by Devon Tsuno, assistant professor of Art and Design, and Aandrea Stang, director of the University Art Gallery/assistant professor of Art and Design. Through PRAXIS, the Department of Art and Design fosters students’ ability to couple artistic expressions with social change, thus building both practical and intellectual bridges to the local community. In addition, the University Art Gallery is a space for the PRAXIS program’s constant exploration, through support for artists in residence and exhibitions.
The University Art Gallery has highlighted the work of numerous Hispanic artists over the years. In the last few years this includes student artists José A. Espinoza, whose illustrations critique political abuse and the treatment of undocumented immigrants and Christy Amezcua, whose paintings exploring gender inequality have been recognized by California Congresswoman Nanette Díaz Barragán and have been exhibited in Japan. Additionally the University Art Gallery featured a series of contemporary artists whose socially critical artwork draws on the legacy of the iconic early 20th century Mexican “calavera” artist José Guadalupe Posada. The PRAXIS program has collaborated with experienced Hispanic artists such as Ana Llorente, a Design Educator from the California College of the Arts, Juan Capistrán, a Mexican-born critical artist who has held exhibitions in numerous U.S. and Mexican cities, and Mario Ybarra Jr., a Senior Lecturer at the Otis College of Art and Design whose art focuses on Mexican-American identity, and who has exhibited his work in the US, Puerto Rico and Europe.
Given CSUDH’s location in South Los Angeles (with a high proportion of Hispanic residents), PRAXIS outreach programs directly benefit the Hispanic community. These include PRAXIS City ArtS Parks (CAP) program, developed to help elementary school-age children from underserved inner-city communities learn the principles and elements of art. Through these art classes, they also gain confidence and build critical thinking skills. PRAXIS CAP classes are taught by local artists and assisted by CSUDH undergraduate students, and they have continued through Zoom sessions throughout the Covid19 pandemic.
PRAXIS projects have been made possible through generous support from the California Arts Council (Creative California Communities), Big City Forum, Shared_Studios, Pasadena Arts Alliance, Los Angeles Unified School District, Cerritos College, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.
Most recently, PRAXIS received a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts 2021 Visual Arts award category. This grant, together with a $15,000 grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance (PAA), will support the PRAXIS Studio residency of Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Martinez and an exhibition of his work.
Of Filipino, Mexican, and Native American descent, Martinez grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Martinez, whose renowned Pee Chee series highlights the threats posed to people of color by law enforcement, creates art with a strong social justice message.
His mixed media landscape paintings are abstractions composed of Los Angeles surface content that address place and socio-economic position, and expose sites of personal, civic and cultural loss. His neon sign works are fabricated to mirror street level commercial signage, but are remixed to present words and phrases drawn from literary and oratorical sources. While his acrylic on panel cake paintings memorialize leaders, activists, and thinkers.
“I’m incredibly excited to share what informs my art practice with the students of CSUDH, but more importantly I want to activate these students to establish their own systems of art making,” said Martinez. Martinez’s artist residency was originally planned for summer 2021 but will be rescheduled to when regular operations and in-person instruction returns to CSUDH.