PPLA recently had the privilege to attend Witness:Expressions of Social Change, a mutli-media art show for students to express social issues, personal concerns, and contemporary ideas. The show was presented by the non-profit organziation Woodcraft Rangers and top artists and entertainment professionals donated their time and talent to help make this show a success. Woodcraft Rangers offers traditional and non-traditional programs to inner city youth in Los Angeles in the areas of youth development, enrichment, and education. Their programs serve ages six through eighteen in a variety of disciplines include health & physical education, math, sciences, technology, literacy, and visual & performing arts through after-school programs, summer and residential day camps, and workshops. The goal of Witness was to bring together talent from the Los Angeles community to guide the students in their creative voice and expression. Often, youth in inner city L.A. face labels which are put upon them by peers and outside influences, such as gangster, under- achiever, uneducated, and unmotivated. Witness was their opportunity to share their personal feelings as a social message delivered through their art, while expressing who they are and what they stand for in their own voice.
The show took place at Dream Factory-the Artist Lofts and included art in all forms. Dance erupted on a floor stage, singers performed, and graffiti art was hung on tall warehouse walls. Student films played on screens in viewing rooms and drums played loud heartbeats. In keeping with the theme, we asked students to express their thoughts on the finished product of the show- what they’d learned putting it together and what it meant to them having it displayed and performed live in front of a packed house.
Israel, a visual artist from Manual Arts High School told me he felt the show had been a succes and explained his pink ribbon painting to me. His message was about a family member’s illness. “I have an Aunt who had Breast Cancer and I wanted to raise awareness about the disease. My Aunt is a survivor,” he said. “I used colors to express my moods. We teenagers have energy to burn and that’s why we danced and painted. I was expressing how I was feeling in the moment and how I was glad my Aunt survived.”
Another student, Edgar took photos of the event (which are included in this article). I asked him what his role was at Witness. He said, “I was taking pictures of the paintings as they were being put up and I thought this is the pursuit of happiness, my friends expressing themselves.” When asked what the high point of the night was for him he said, “The enthusiasm of the performers. Especially, the break dancing.”
After speaking with Edgar, I decided to find the break dancing club myself, which is called ‘All Styles Dance Club’ instructed by Robert De La Cruz, an energetic, proud young teacher. His students battled each other on an enormous stage in a giant auditorium where they practice all week long. “They really showed their skills that night even though we had to make changes to accommodate the space,” said De La Cruz.
I spoke with three of the dancers and asked why they thought it was important to dance as a teenager and what message was being expressed at Witness. “I’ve been a dancer all my life. Dance is the art form that brings music to life. If I chose two words for my Witness performance, they’d be happiness and dedication,” responded, Evan, one of the student dancers. Another, Brian, a dancer for four years with De La Cruz, said he loved the collaboration with the other dancers and said he wanted to make the middle school kids smile. I asked him to expand on that idea. “The more people off the streets and onto the stage, the more they teach each other to not fight out there, but to fight with the beat.” He explained the motto of the dance club ‘Each One Teach One’ which means that the dancers all teach each other the moves. He said that Witness was about “collaboration and training to have a positive outlet.” Lastly, Gus summed up his experience at Witness as positive. When asked what message he wanted to express, he said, “Witness was a good experience because I got to create a small piece to promote uniqueness and individuality.”
One thing we witnessed at this event was the ongoing importance that arts and entertainement has on the community and its youth. Programs like this allow for established artists, entertainment professionals, and celebrities to use their success and experiences to continue help grow the future of this city.
For more information on this event or other community outreach programs, please visit Woodcraft Rangers.