Get to know artworxLA, a non-profit combatting the high school dropout crisis

Our friends at the non-profit arts organization artworxLA are working hard to combat the high school dropout crisis in Los Angeles. How are they doing that? By providing unique creative opportunities for students in need. The hope, of course, is that through these new experiences the students will be less inclined to ditch high school, and more inclined to pursue their passions.

Most recently, artworxLA tapped into LA’s significant creative resources, sending out three professional storytelling teams to spend the day with three students who were impacted by the artworkLA program. The goal of the day was to learn about those students’ personal journeys and their future aspirations, and to show how creativity and access to the arts re-engaged students on the brink of leaving high school for good. Each team created a short (1-3 minute) film that humanizes the struggles and obstacles these teenagers faced.

One of the teens, Cecilia Flores, spoke with filmmaker Steph Green about the transformative experience she had working with artworxLA. Her film is below.

Steph Green (SG): Before participating in artworxLA, what path were you on? What was your idea of your future back then? What was the pre-artworxLA version of you?

Cecilia Flores (CF): Before artworxLA, I was a miserable kid. I ditched class, stayed at home, was lazy, didn’t do anything. At school, I just sat there, didn’t pay attention. That was a time I didn’t go to school. I thought school was pointless and I would ditch. I thought the teachers were annoying. My plan was to get a diploma and just get a job to help my mom pay the bills. I was more quiet than I am right now. More shy, more closed. I wouldn’t be open to take opportunities. I wouldn’t even have opportunities. I didn’t want to do anything. I was a closed-minded teenager.

SG: Were you always close-minded? What made you quiet and shy?

CF: In elementary school, I had one teacher who bullied me all the time. When I would write, I would take my time. She would always come and tell me to hurry up. That made me a shier person, not wanting to talk. She made me feel like I was doing it wrong, that I shouldn’t be this or that. I was being shut down, shut up. That affected me.

Now with all these people at artworxLA, they’re always happy, having good vibes. That made me be more open. Before artworxLA, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then artworxLA came and opened my eyes. I want to be an artist, a fashion designer. Now, I like school, I want to be in school. I changed my mind. It opened me.

SG:: How does a student get to artworxLA? What was your journey?

CF: You have to be in a continuation high school, schools for students who are very behind in credits or who have dropped out or been kicked out of school. I got referred by the principal from my home high school. He looked at my records, saw that I had taken a few art classes, and referred me to artworxLA. I thought it would be regular art class, like drawing oceans. But the first class I had with artworxLA was a filmmaking class. The first assignment was what would a high school student think about graduating? It was a pretty interesting first assignment. Then I went on to their advanced programs in fashion design, then they sent me to Art Center for classes in fashion sketching, illustration, and visual arts.

SG: What is the difference between regular art class and what artworxLA provides?

CF: High school art class is a good class, but in the artworxLA class, the artist engages with you, motivates you, inspires you to do your own artworks. Your work doesn’t just get graded, but congratulated. It makes you feel motivated to continue.

SG: Do you remember key moments or people that influenced you in this journey? Key memories?

CF: A key moment was when artworxLA gave me one of their scholarships to go to Otis’ fashion campus in downtown Los Angeles. I realized I could do something great. The professor inspired me to want to go into fashion design. It’s a really fun process and career and I thought to myself, I want to do that. It looks like fun.

SG: What are qualities of an artist?

CF: An artist would be a happy person, optimistic, open to trying new things, learn new skills, be a cool person.

SG: Why do you think art is important in this world?

CF: Art makes the world more interesting, more beautiful, more weird. The world is pretty interesting.

SG: Do you think it’s important for lots of different people to do art?

CF: People can do art in their own way – chefs, hairstylists, fashion designers, cyclists. Even my mom has her own way of doing art. Anyone can do art.

SG: In what way is your mom artistic?

CF: In the way she sees things differently, sees things that I wouldn’t think of. She’s artistic in the way she takes care of her family.

SG: How do you see the world differently than other people?

CF: We’re all one, all human, we all create art in our own way.

SG: What did you learn in your first fashion classes that made you think this would be interesting career?

CF: You have to be constantly inspired by objects, people’s styles, the city. I had to learn to draw a body figure, garments on the mannequin, on the body. How the fabric lays on the body. You have to learn how to do “flats” – how the garment lays on the table. It’s helpful for a designer to know how to fix the fabric.

SG: If I’m gong to support you in creating a fashion line, what would it be?

CF: I’ve been thinking of a uni-sex clothing line for queers. Weird clothes, different colors, button down, hoodies, all kinds of unisex stuff for people who don’t care about gender, who wouldn’t care if it was for a man or a woman, but a good style.

SG: Is it annoying when you walk into a store and have to decide between the women’s section or the men’s?

CF: Yes, when you walk in store and have to pick a side.

SG: It’s such a good idea. Why are stores not doing this?

CF: I think there are a few.

SG: What is the first step when you are designing a fashion line?

CF: Gathering the idea first, gathering all the pictures – downtown LA vibe, inspiration from old cars, from animals. Then putting all this inspiration together, creating a lifestyle for the kind of people you want to make clothes for. I want to create a design for a lifestyle that’s free, one with no labels.

SG: Why do you not want labels?

CF: We shouldn’t put labels on people. We are all human, we shouldn’t label someone by what other people think they should be. They should be able to be who they want to be.

Joining Steph and Ceci on this project were two other teams. Watch the film about Jose created by Matt Tolmach and Paige Goldberg Tolmach, and the film about Jonathan by Rich Lee and Louise Baker Lee.

(Image via YouTube)

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