Bridging elite art and LA communities

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Students learning to make art at the Rufino Tamayo exhibit at Charles White Elementary School. Photo courtesy of LACMA.

Elementary schools aren't where you'd expect to find world-class art. But at Charles White Elementary School in MacArthur Park, priceless works by the late Mexican modernist painter Rufino Tamayo are on display. The current exhibit is called “Rufino Tamayo: Innovation and Experimentation.”

This elementary school opened 15 years ago on the former campus of the Otis College of Art and Design, so it came with a great gallery. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) moved into the space. Showing art there is part of the museum’s effort to connect with a wider audience.

Erin Brenham, who runs school and family programs at LACMA, says the current show came out of a community focus group: “We got together and said, ‘Here are some ideas for exhibitions in this gallery. Which one would you like us to do?’ And the community chose this one. 


Kids and their parents at the Rufino Tamayo exhibit at Charles White Elementary School. Photo courtesy of LACMA.

At the launch of the exhibition, an art instructor from LACMA worked a small printing machine. She cranked out stamps for kids standing in line. Second grader Lauren Avella worked on a blue stamp in the form of a female figure. She just moved here with her mother, Sherry Avella. Sherry picked this school because of the art program. She says, “This is priceless -- that my daughter has exposure to world class art in elementary school.”

During the exhibition, local artist Raul Baltazar works with students to create a sculpture inspired by a Tamayo print of two dogs chasing two people. This sculpture will become part of LACMA’s permanent collection.

Baltazar wants to make sure the kids don’t lose their cultural heritage in the changing neighborhood. “The only way you are going to compete against gentrification is by having the means and connections to fight for your rights to stay within the community,” he says. “I want to show them that they can actually build a cultural legacy for future generations.” 


Raul Baltazar working with school kids. Photo courtesy of LACMA.

Raul Baltazar. Photo courtesy of LACMA.

LACMA’s Erin Brenham understands the tricky dynamics of elite art in a community setting. That’s why choosing which artist to feature at Charles White Elementary School was a long process. “You gotta make grassroots relationships, so it doesn’t feel like you are flying in going, ‘Oh here is something we thought you would like.’ ”

The gallery is open every Saturday from 1:00-4:00 PM.