The NOMAD Lab Art Project for children celebrated Human Rights Day on December 10 by envisioning a world – real or imagined – that they would like to live in. Multimedia artist Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and musician/composer Kevin Robinson led the event, held in an apartment complex at the Valle del Oro Neighborhood in Santa Clarita, CA., where the children live. The Trailer Trash Project organized the event in collaboration with NOMAD Lab founder Evelyn Serrano, who uses art to encourage children to work together build a peaceful, tolerant multi-cultural neighborhood. Musician/Composer Kevin Robinson with NOMAD kids
Tenor Saxaphonist Kevin Robinson, who is a firm believer in the power of music to heal, demonstrated how the sound that comes out of his instrument is influenced by his stance, breath, emotions – even the rate of his beating heart. He showed how musical instruments can be fashioned from found objects such as hat stands, lamp stands and shades. Even the voice, hands and feet can be effective instruments, he said. A lesson in learning about how the music becomes one with your body came with Kevin encouraging the kids to clap their hands to a set beat, while he riffed and a NOMAD kid repeated sounds to a tune.This winter, the Kevin Robinson Ensemble (KREation) will be on tour in New York City and Baltimore this Winter (see dates)
For her part, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle recounted tales from her Kentifrica homeland, providing maps and drawing of the people who live there and the instruments they play. She encouraged the NOMADS to draw maps of their own home country (real or imagined) and then asked them to describe what life was like there.
Artist Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's shows her portrait of a fellow citizen of Kentifrica to kids with the NOMAD Lab Art Project
Kevin Robinson, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle and the NOMAD Lab Art Project collaborate with Sam Breen’s Trailer Trash Project in its mission to foster creativity and a sense of community through a program of art performances, exhibits and residencies in local Los Angeles neighborhoods.
NOMAD Lab founder, artist and CalArts faculty member Evelyn Serrano
In recognition of Human Rights Day, two international human rights lawyers based in Geneva, Switzerland joined the group. Tom McCarthy and Anna-Lena Svensson McCarthy who were in California on a family trip, provided an opportunity to explain to that shelter is a human right.
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housingand medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” (article 25(1)) Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Children with Evelyn Serrano’s NOMAD Lab Art Project toured Sam’s trailer to inspect the progress since his last visit to their neighborhood in December.
Sam and friends gave neighborhood children a tour of the trailer during the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Festival, held May 6th at an apartment complex near Cal Arts. The festival was a chance to highlight the art work of at-risk children, age 6-14, who participate in the NOMAD Lab Art Project. Trailer Trash partners with the NOMAD Lab, exploring the importance of home and community through art.
In a public art “lab”, the children made signs stating their views on the ingredients necessary for a safe and happy neighborhood. In another lab they designed furniture for the inside of Sam’s trailer and gave pointers how to make it a welcoming place for young people.
Artist and teacher Evelyn Serrano directs the volunteer-run NOMAD Lab with help from Cal Arts students and others. The City of Santa Clarita is one of the project’s boosters and helps with the cost of materials. In an email thanking the project’s teachers and helpers, Evelyn described how happy the children were to put their art (music, drawing, story-telling and photography) on display at festival:
Children at the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Festival watch as NOMADS receive certificates for participating in art projects held throughout the school year on the grounds of their apartment complex.
Test run on an experimental design for modular furniture inside the trailer.
Nomad signage filled in the blanks: "A good home is....", "A safe neighborhood is..."
I was at the verge of tears more than once during the festival. I was just so very proud of the young people and of the work we have accomplished this year. I can’t tell you how many of them came to me pleading that we have class THIS Saturday, that they can’t wait till September…
They have made friends in the program, they have become advocates of the program and understand the importance of it.
A NOMAD reads one of his stories while Evelyn Serrano holds the mike.
The girls shocked me with their impromptu speeches [saying why they like the NOMAD Project]. How proud I was! To see them exercise their collective and individual voices with power and fearlessness. How energized I felt after witnessing them. And seeing the boys so proud of their work (and rightly so).
My best wishes for an extraordinary summer.
Lots of love, Evelyn
Stay Tuned: On June 4th the NOMAD kids will exhibit their signs in a show called “ Slanguage” at a gallery in Willmington, CA. For more information, check out the blog for the NOMAD Lab Art Project.
Click to view slideshow.Gallery Photos by Karina Yanez– To control slideshow speed, place your cursor over the slide and press the pause/start button.
As part of the Trailer Trash Project, Sam will be working with the Nomad Lab Art Project, a program for at-risk children aged 6-14. and their parents from the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood in Santa Clarita, CA. The program currently offers art classes or labs) in writing, photography, guitar and public art. Computer and cooking classes are available for parents. It is run under the voluntary direction of Evelyn Serrano who also teaches a class on art and activism at CalArts.
The classes focus on the meaning of home – a theme Serrano has previously explored in her work as an artist and curator. Coincidentally, it is also the theme that Sam is focusing on in his Trailer Trash project. On November 6th, Sam brought the Spartan to the Nomads, asking for their help figuring out what makes a house (or a tin can) a home.
The following article describes how the NOMAD LAB Art Project got started. Over time, Sam’s Spartan Revival will keep you posted on the design ideas the Nomads come up with for the trailer.
They gather in empty spaces to turn dreams into art. And as they draw and write, they are planting the seeds of a peaceful community.
Meet The Nomads, children aged 6-14, who gather Wednesday and Saturday mornings at The Village Apartment Complex in Santa Clarita’s Valle del Oro (VDO) Neighborhood. Here they have time to slow down, to get to know and trust each other.
The NOMAD LAB Art Project offers labs (or classes) in photography, public art, story telling and guitar. At the same time, their parents can participate in cooking and computer labs. But art is just a starting point. It provides opportunities for neighbors in Santa Clarita’s troubled Valle del Oro Neighborhood to come together to explore what they like and what they want to change in their community.
“If we are successful, the kids and their parents will get to know each other,” says artist and NOMAD LAB organizer, Evelyn Serrano. “They will learn to be tolerant and respectful of each other.”
The program started off modestly enough last year with 30 children and Serrano as their teacher. Since then attendance has doubled to 60 kids and their parents, with five teachers, some from Serrano’s class at California Institute for the Arts. Classes are free and everyone works on a volunteer basis.
“It’s a great program,” said Cynthia Llerenas, Community Services Supervisor for the City of Santa Clarita. “I would like to see it modeled in different locations.”
Llernas, who also head’s the City of Santa Clarita’s Anti-Gang Task Force, was an important force in helping Serrano get the program up and running. Two years ago she was attending meetings with the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Committee to address problems of crime and racial tensions in their community. Neighbors were feeling unsafe and they were their fingers at the young people.
Serrano, who was living in the Valle del Oro Neighborhood at the time, was aware that youngsters were joining gangs in the 5th and 6th grade. As an artist and teacher committed to community art, she agreed to run a program for at-risk youth in the neighborhood.
“Having worked with kids, I knew we shouldn’t place all the blame on them.” she explained. “The truth was more complex. There were no after-school or weekend programs in that area of town. We needed to provide positive alternatives to gangs. And the voices of young people needed to be part of the solution.”
She went in search of a venue for classes, approaching the local elementary school and a youth organization. All requests were denied until she got a green light the management company at The Village – an apartment complex where much of the trouble was taking place. Classes could meet in a vacant apartment until it was rented out and they would have to move into another one that was vacant. The changing venues inspired the name, The Nomads.
“It’s like we are a gang,” explained Serrano. “But what we offer is another way of being together. A lot of our kids see violence in their homes. Art is the starting point for them to learn how to be together respectfully, to learn to collaborate successfully when we work.”
Nomads who participate in the writing, photography and music labs sit on the floor or in folding chairs. The minimalist, temporary nature of the venue creates a setting that seems conducive to creative output.
The public arts lab, taught by Serrano, takes place outside in the apartment courtyard. They are encouraged to closely observe their community and think about what they like about it and what they would like to change.
“I want the labs to be a special opportunity for the kids to re-engage with their neighborhood. I want them to re-consider what it takes to make their home and community safe, healthy and sustainable,” Serrano explained.
Cynthia LLerenas is pleased with how all the pieces of this program are falling into place, and she wishes similar opportunities were open to other young people. “If we had recreational opportunities for kids in every apartment complex it would eliminate 95% of our problems,” she says.
Her experience working 17 years as a prevention specialist has taught her a thing or two. “Kids don’t want to be involved with gangs, but they get sucked in, partly because there aren’t other viable alternatives, partly because the parents have lost control at home. But there are no easy fixes. A program like the NOMAD LAB requires on-going commitment from organizers, teachers and parents: “You have to be passionate and you have to have a vision.”
“These kids are finding their niche,” she says. ”Some of them come from a background where they have no self-esteem. Now they are raising their hands in class and trying out for sports. It’s all about building confidence.”
A big part of her job is to help parents and youth to learn how to access resources that will help them keep their neighborhoods safe. In meetings that take place after the labs, parents learn how to access social and legal services as well as employment opportunities. For communities to be sustainable, so it is important the talents and resources of people who live in the neighborhood must also be utilized.
Serrano says the mothers are in the cooking lab are “incredibly bright and resourceful.” Their energy and organizing talents help make the whole project run smoothly. It’s not just the moms. When Nomad dad Jose Chunga proposed labs for parents, he volunteered himself to teach a computer class which has become a success.
Serrano says the NOMAD LAB Art Project is all about breaking down walls of fear and insecurity between neighbors. “It’s hard for people to invest in their community when they are afraid of each other. We are trying to create a safe context for people to interact and see each other as people who are very rich in resources.”
As for the kids, Serrano hopes that the observation skills she is teaching them as artists will carry over to change the things they don’t like about their community. “I want them to learn to be critical observers in a positive way. I would like them to ask themselves: ‘What is my say? Even though I am young, I have a lot of power.’”
“If we do anything right at least we can give them models and other alternatives about what a home can be. We can encourage them to become dreamers. And their dreams can influence their lives and the lives of other people.”
The NOMAD LAB Art Project is a collaborative effort between the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood Association, the City of Santa Clarita, the Los Angeles County Human Rights Commission and The Village Apartments.
As part of the Trailer Trash Project, Sam will be working with the Nomad Lab – children and their parent from the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood Association in Newhall (Santa Clarita) CA. The Lab offers all kinds of art workshops in graphic design, print making, music, acting, etc. It is run under the direction of Evelyn Serrano who also teaches a class on art and activism at CalArts. Sam recently met with the class. Here are his notes: [ed.]
-by Sam Breen, October 17, 2010
I met with Evelyn’s class, and we are starting to make a plan. Our first date with theNomads and their parents is in Newhall on Nov 6 . There should be about 30-40 students there, ranging in age 6-14. Evelyn wants me to bring the trailer, so I will need to install a work-floor in the Spartan by then! Nomad workshops in photography and creative writing are already under way. Teachers are exploring the idea of what home means to them. So they’ve begun thinking about this theme (which is great ’cause that’s my theme, too!) I’ll give the kids a small presentation of the projectand take them
What makes a house a home?
on a tour of the Spartan. Then the photography kids will take pictures. Some will start writing, some of the Arts and Activism students from CalArts will lead theater games (with the idea of home in mind). Some of the Nomad kids will be commissioned to talk about what they’d want in the trailer if it was their home (they could draw, write etc.) We could have a projector in there, so I might put up some ideas for my wish list – things like solar panels, a grey water system, compost. I’ll also be asking them about ways to use the trailer as a performance space – even before it’s finished.
On Oct 20, well’ll have another meeting of the Arts and Activism Class. Stay tuned. [Sam will have got to install a temporary floor in the Spartan in the next three weeks. That also means floor insulation, a belly pan, and tanks for storing clean and water. -ed.]