Hammer Highlights 2017: Educational Programming in Troubling Times

December 13, 2017
– By Theresa Sotto, assistant director, academic programs

Hammer Highlights is a blog series that features the past year's most memorable moments and stories from each of our departments. 

I am a woman of color and a daughter of immigrants. I work in the museum education field at a progressive art institution. I live in a predominantly liberal city in a majority blue state. I believe that art, environmental preservation, scientific rigor, education equity, and independent journalism are lifelines to a better, more sustainable and just world. Suffice it to say, the political climate of the past year has not been on my side. As the barrage of dismaying headlines continue to mount, there are days when I watch the news unfold in paralysis. On better days, I’m galvanized by public outcries and protests and the individuals who continue moving the needle towards equity, sustainability, empathy, and social justice. For example, my Academic Programs team has been hard at work over the past year shifting existing programming and developing new initiatives to better address our current climate and its impact on our audiences. Let’s begin with our youngest citizens.

Art Without Walls

On January 28 and 29, we launched our first Art Without Walls program with the belief that art can transcend an array of barriers, including geographical borders. In partnership with the Felipe De Neve Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, we began offering intergenerational audiences free art activities that take inspiration from social justice issues, children’s literature, and Hammer exhibitions. The same art-making activities occur at both the museum and library, which are separated by 10 miles. In addition, library books related to social justice issues are made available for either independent reading or reading aloud in the galleries. At the De Neve Branch Library, which is located in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of MacArthur Park, the program is bilingual in Spanish and English. 

My favorite Art Without Walls program this year was developed in conjunction with an installation by artist Kevin Beasley, who had been inspired by a photograph of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton sitting powerfully on a throne-like chair. We invited families to contribute to thrones made collectively at the museum and the library, and then take a seat and declare how they would defeat racism in their world. Their proclamations in both Spanish and English were united in one video, proving that, indeed, art can transcend walls of all kinds. 

From Art Without Walls: How to Defeat Racism

Learn more about Art Without Walls in a piece by KPCC, "Using art-making to start conversations with kids about social justice."

Family Day: Art for Good

Every year we transform the museum into an arts playground for kids. This year, we decided that our annual Family Day should focus on how art can be used as a tool for building awareness and social change. In Family Day: Art for Good, over 1,000 participants across generations engaged in artist-led workshops designed to inspire families to be active and conscious citizens around issues ranging from decolonization to environmental sustainability. For example, artist Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle encouraged families to create objects that can solve world problems, Sarita Dougherty taught us how to compost and create living sculptures with rosemary, and Emily Mast led peaceful protests around the museum accompanied by handmade musical instruments and signs communicating the kids’ issues of choice. No matter how young or how tiny their voices, kids attending Family Day learned firsthand the power—and fun—of speaking up and making a difference.  

Emily Mast leads peaceful protests around the museum
Emily Mast leads peaceful protests around the museum

Gallery Teaching as a Political Act

The exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 afforded our teaching staff the opportunity to engage visitors of various backgrounds and ages with art by Latin American, Latina, and Chicana women who have been marginalized in the art historical canon. Many of the works were being shown in Los Angeles or the United States for the first time, and we seized the opportunity to work across UCLA departments to engage university students with subjects related to politicizing the female body, debunking gender stereotypes, and female empowerment. Our outreach efforts resulted in nearly 1,000 students visiting the Hammer through university courses—some visiting from as far as Princeton. We also added Spanish-language tours to our offerings this year with the aim of reducing language barriers that might restrict some visitors from accessing the exhibition.

Radical Women couldn’t have been a timelier exhibition. At a moment when individuals across the country are speaking out in droves against sexual assault by men in power, the images celebrating women’s bodies and subverting patriarchal ideologies resulted in powerful conversations in the galleries. A total of 3,332 people participated in tours of this exhibition, the highest number of tourgoers of all exhibitions in the nearly four years that I have worked at the Hammer!

I believe that our style of teaching in the galleries is a political act. We train UCLA students to critically engage with works of art and facilitate conversations rather than lecture and communicate a singular perspective—and in doing so, we are making space for active participation among a multiplicity of voices rather than fostering passive consumers of information. Following one of our tours, a frequent visitor shared the following feedback: "This was our very best museum trip ever–our guides were all wonderful, they queried the students and respected their art expertise." Shortly thereafter this organization booked 12 tours for Spring 2018. As bell hooks, one of my favorite radical women thinkers, said, "To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn…our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students."

An interview with Theresa Sotto and Radical Women cocurator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill

Amplifying Voices of Radical Women and Radical Girls

Many visitors engaged with themes in Radical Women in more intensive ways than can be accomplished in a one-hour tour. On September 18, a total of nearly 2,000 people watched a symposium in conjunction with the exhibition either in Los Angeles at the Hammer or online in Spanish or English from 10 different countries. In this daylong symposium, scholars, artists, and curators from around the world discussed the idea of the political body and what it means to be a radical woman artist. The symposium was bilingual in Spanish and English with real-time interpretation provided by Antena Los Ángeles, allowing both panelists and participants the ability to speak and listen in the language with which they are most comfortable. The program was entirely bilingual—from initial invites to onsite signage, and was featured in The Guardian as a result.

We couldn’t pass up the chance to galvanize the next generation of radical women to speak their truths and break barriers no matter what walls are constructed or how high are the ceilings. A month after the symposium, on October 21, we invited radical girls to convene at the Hammer. In collaboration with nonprofit organization Las Fotos Project, creative teens from across the city celebrated creative risk-taking, self-expression, and radical girl power. The program included a panel moderated by high school student Melissa Barales-Lopez and comprised renowned Radical Women artist Judy Baca, photographers Genevieve Gaignard and Star Montana, and Las Fotos Project student Marisabel Perez. Following the panel, teens participated in seven creative workshops, including one led by Isabel Castro, whose powerful work about forced sterilization is on view in the exhibition.  

Civic Engagement for Los Angeles Schools

Regardless of the temporary exhibitions that are on view in our galleries, we strive to make lasting impacts on our audiences. One way we accomplish this is through our professional development programs for classroom teachers, who are inspired to teach successful lessons year after year. The focus of our fall program, Civic Engagement in the Arts: A Teacher Workshop, was developed, in part, as a way to guide public school teachers to navigate our current social and political climate. Third through eighth grade teachers walked away with tools for leading socially-conscious art activities, developing culturally relevant curricula through an ethnic studies lens, and strengthening students’ skills in perspective-taking and critical thinking through discussions about art. 

Self-Care in Tumultuous Times

The work of social justice and education equity can be difficult and draining. It comes as no surprise that the term self-care has become a buzzword in recent years. As poet Audre Lorde said, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." To help members of our UCLA community maintain an awareness of their reactions to the world around them while also remaining centered, we’ve been experimenting with walking meditations in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. Our first foray into this work was designed in collaboration with the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, and we hope to offer more walking meditations in the months to come. We may need all the self-care tools we can get in 2018.