Santa Monica Museum of Art

More than 500 students from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District are part of the current “Wall Works” exhibit at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

For the show, titled “Horizon”artists Silvina Babich and Alejandro Mei_tin of the Argentinian collective Ala Pla_stica asked students to look out on their horizon and draw what they saw. Youth-equipped with Tule reed “pens” locally harvested from the Ballona Wetlands, cardboard viewfinders, and Sumi ink – produced hundreds of observational drawings that form a collective horizon of diverse perspectives on our environment. The drawings are on view through Jan. 10 in the hallway of Bergamot Station’s G Building. Students from Edison Language Academy, Franklin Elementary School, Grant Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School, Will Rogers Learning Community, and more participated.

Lincoln Middle School art teacher Kate Tomatti had 105 students participate in this year’s Wall Works show. She said it is a powerful experience for youth.

“It connects the students to other contemporary artists, and my students were learning about what other artists are doing, and artists they may not have known about otherwise,” she said.

Asuka Hisa, Director of Education and Public Programs at the museum said the Wall Works project is a unique opportunity for students to interact with high-caliber artists.

“These are artists that are exhibiting actively around the world, that the students get to connect with through our program,” she said. “These are young people, but later on they may come across that name and say ‘my goodness I did a project with them.'”

Hisa said many of the participating artists come to the project through their work with another exhibit at the museum. In this case, Babich and Meitin were part of the SMMoA’s Fall exhibition, Citizen Culture: Artists and Architects Shape Policy.

Ala Pla_stica took up residence at the Museum for a month to work with local students and Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, a non-profit dedicated to the protection and restoration of the coastal wetlands in Playa del Rey. In their home country of Argentina, Ala Pla_stica oversaw the cleanup of the 1999 oil spill in the Rio de la Plata estuary – the largest freshwater oil spill in history. Their installation in Citizen Culture included Tule reed sculptures and served as documentation of the 1999 cleanup. Babich and Mei_tin refer to the rhizome, an underground network of reeds, to symbolize their art practice, which connects art to social, political, and environmental activism.

Wall Works is an annual event for the museum and the education program is offered for free to local schools. Organizers said Wall Works is best described in one word-synergy. The program connects students from kindergarten through 12th grade in collaborative art-making projects with important artists.

Hisa said the program works because the museum has developed a system of distributing the artists throughout local schools via video taped presentations. Each participating class received a tape of the artists explaining their project. Classes also receive all the materials and supplies to participate.

“Our technique of filming them and making it available to as many classrooms as we can accommodate, allows this to happen,” she said.

Tomatti said the museum deserves credit for creating a program that is so well organized.

“The way they do this, they send out a box and its like opening this great gift,” she said. “I always do it with the students. We get a box of supplies with the DVD that introduces the idea and the museum. It’s hard to believe but I do have students that don’t know anything about the museum, so it’s a great introduction to that and great connection to the museum.”

She said exhibit certainly has great value, both artistic and cultural.

“After making the project, (students) get to go see the work in this context of the museum setting, they feel like it’s this incredible honor to be part of this group show,” she said. “I also love the connection a local museum connecting with schools in the district and creating opportunities for students to see their work there, it’s always very rich for my students. They really love it.”

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Adrienne White contributed to this story.

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