Community and college unite to shape Oxy Arts space on York

Kailee Stovall, post-baccalaureate fellow, explains group agreements before the workshop in Lower Herrick at Occidental College, Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Cherry Han/The Occidentals

Oxy Arts hosted a Creative Exchange Workshop Feb. 27 in Lower Herrick to discuss the future of a property Occidental purchased on York Boulevard in 2015, which will open in Fall 2018 at the earliest. At the workshop, the most recent in a series of four community-based workshops (all of which focus on the new property on York), members of the Occidental and Highland Park communities gathered to brainstorm ideas about the future of the building on York and to voice their concerns and opinions. A draft of the plans presented at the workshop showed that Oxy Arts currently aims to use the building as a multi-use assembly space, art gallery and office. Local artists, representatives from local organizations and businesses and Occidental students were among those in attendance.

The meeting’s intention was to gather concrete ideas from the community about what to do with the space, according to Allegra Padilla, coordinator of community programs for Oxy Arts, the Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) and the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles (ISLA). The administration is working on the physical appearance and construction of the space, and once it is open, Oxy Arts will curate programming and takeover management, according to Padilla.

“The intention [of the workshop] was to start and continue the process of building a collaborative vision for how the Oxy Arts space on York Boulevard can be in the community,” Padilla said. “The main goal was to get concrete ideas for what people would like to see in a way that honors community needs.”

Padilla, along with Interim Director of Oxy Arts Meldia Yesaya and Oxy Arts’ Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Kailee Stovall structured the workshops to encourage dialogue from attendees and maximize community input. Attendees had the opportunity to write ideas for the space on index cards that other attendees then ranked by how much they liked them. Those in attendance also discussed guidelines they would like to see considered during Oxy Arts’ decision-making process about what to put in the space.

The most popular ideas included a community space for organizing through the arts, music classes and free classes for low-income residents. Throughout the workshop, community members voiced concerns about where people using the space would park, whether artists would be able to sell their art there and how to ensure that feedback will be taken throughout the whole process. The attendees also emphasized the importance of considering topics such as access, inclusion, community and communication when creating the space.

According to Padilla, community members voiced similar feedback at the previous three workshops hosted by Oxy Arts, including a workshop Feb. 7 at Franklin High School.

Twenty-year-old Carlos Martinez, who has lived in the area his whole life, attended the workshop because he wanted to be engaged in the decision-making process. He expressed his excitement for the possibilities of the community space.

“I am happy that it’s going to be in the community because you don’t see a lot of stuff like that for the community, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Martinez said. “One of my hopes is to have the community engaged and come back together.”

A group of parents and children from Toland Way Elementary School comprised almost half of the workshop’s attendees.

“We had people in the room ranging from eight months –– under one year old –– to 90 years old. And to me, that’s part of why I commit to the work, because I know firsthand from personal experience and from work that I’ve done that you have the power to really impact lives” Padilla said. “It’s very important for us to have spaces to have dialogue.”

According to Stovall, the workshops have taught her and her colleagues the value of transparency and of building trust and relationships with the community.

“[The next steps are to] synthesize the information and feedback we have received from these workshops and meetings into a coherent vision for the space,” Stovall said via email.

Padilla also acknowledged the significance of the space on York and the potential impacts of displacement that the college faces through this process.

“Once this space opens, it is intended to be a bridge. We know that there’s lots of complex things to navigate, not only in terms of logistics but really taking into consideration dynamics of power and privilege,” Padilla said. “As an institution of higher education, we’re setting a positive precedent on how community interaction will look.”