Faculty + Staff

New academy teaches inner-city students: Make art, go to college

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FORM Academy 2
Joanie Harmon

FORM Academy students view masks they created on the theme of "Dreaming Identity."

The Sculpture Lab in UCLA’s Broad Art Center was abuzz with activity last month when 30 students from underserved high schools throughout Los Angeles made art and got a taste of the college-going experience with faculty, students and alumni from the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.

The students were the inaugural class of FORM (Fabricate, Originate, Reimagine, and Make) Academy, a new community outreach program created by Barbara Drucker, the school’s associate dean of community engagement and arts education and professor of painting and drawing, in collaboration with architecture professor Ben Refuerzo, associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Drucker, a longtime advocate for arts education, is also the founding director of the school’s Visual and Performing Arts Education Program, which provides a wide range of education courses, internships, projects, and public presentations for L.A. students and the community at large.

Drucker and Refuerzo developed FORM Academy to meet what they saw as a need for more quality summer arts experiences for students at schools in low-income communities.

“The UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture is committed to community engagement and outreach and to providing more arts opportunities for underserved kids,” Drucker said. While the school offers summer art academies for high school students that incorporate everything from campus housing to college credits, Drucker envisioned a more affordable alternative for inner-city students.

Barbara Drucker and high school student Michael Aguilar, who said that FORM Academy helped him feel more comfortable on a college campus.

FORM Academy participants were selected based on their interests and experiences in the arts and essays they wrote about why they would be good candidates for the program. One student had to take four buses each day to reach UCLA; another drove 120 miles roundtrip from Palmdale.

Drucker and Refuerzo also enlisted arts and architecture faculty >to help create curriculum for the six-day program and work hands-on with the students. Casey Reas of design media arts, Hirsch Perlman of the department of art and Aparna Sharma of world arts and cultures/dance all volunteered. In addition, several graduate students facilitated studio sessions, and alumni served as mentors to the high school students.

The curriculum, with the theme of “Dreaming Identity,” focused on self-reflection, goal-setting and collaboration with others. Writing and brainstorming were also emphasized as key skills. Among the projects were “Walking Taller,” for which students created sculptures to express how they could have improved a past experience. In “Scaling the Imagination,” they contemplated the meaning of the word “shelter” and built a miniature environment based on their musings.

The students also ventured beyond arts and architecture to see other parts of campus, including the Henry Samueli School School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Center for the Art of Performance, and the Fowler and Hammer museums.

Michael Aguilar, a student from UCLA Community School in L.A.’s Koreatown, said that he enjoyed being given a glimpse of college life at UCLA.

“Since we’ve explored the campus,” Aguilar said, “I have an idea of what the lifestyle of a college student would be, and it makes me more comfortable with it.”

Also helping the students expand their college comfort zone was architecture professor Refuerzo, who shared his upbringing as the child of farm workers in Central California.

“My parents never thought I would finish high school,” said Refuerzo, who is the principal architectural designer for the firm R-2ARCH. “We students were all channeled toward shop [classes], and my dad had my farming implements ready for me when I graduated. But I wanted to do something different.”

A one-day visit to UC Davis during high school changed his life, he said.

“That’s why we want more kids to have this chance,” Refuerzo said. “It doesn’t matter if they want to study art or architecture. I just want them to visit the university and understand they can be here, too, and realize their dreams.”

This story was adapted from the original published in Ampersand, the online magazine of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

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