This Saturday afternoon, gather your friends and family to celebrate the richness and diversity of the Pico neighborhood at their semi-annual Pico Block Party under the theme: Empowering Youth Voices at the 18th Street Arts Center.
The Pico Block Party series began last year to celebrate the launch of the organization’s online cultural asset map, “CultureMapping90404.org,” which uses oral histories to map the cultural assets of the city’s Pico neighborhood. The first block party in April 2017 celebrated the English-language version of the website, and the second party in October celebrated the Spanish-language version.
Wanting to further connect its public programming to the local community, 18th Street formed a Neighborhood Advisory Council made up of a number of community leaders they had built relationships with through the oral history initiative. This year’s theme, according to director Sue Bell Yank, results from the combined interests of some the Center’s artists-in-residence and the Advisory Council: “What we wanted to do was really focus in some of our public programming on particular issues or concerns that the community itself felt very strongly about. A lot of those Advisory Council members had been interested in a focus on youth, and we had some artists who were interested in working on that focus as well.”
Local organizations including, Pico Youth and Family Center, Santa Monica Library Teen Council, Cabeza de Vaca Cultural Dance School, and Brighter Futures Charity will have staff tables at the event to talk to visitors about their role in the community.
The event takes place outside the expansive campus amidst its brightly colored buildings. But instead of cars on asphalt, you’ll find vendors selling food as diverse as vegan soul food and Oaxacan ice-cream, as well as traditional artisanal craft items. On the stage, guests can enjoy live performances from local DJs from the Pico Youth and Family Center, among others. If you’ve ever wondered about the world-class art that inside those technicolor buildings, Saturday’s festival is an opportunity to see the studios of professional artists like local artist Yvette Gellis or Daniel Canogar from Spain. The current exhibitions will also be accessible for event patrons.
But the party isn’t just for spectators (and foodies). The Pico Block Party presents myriad opportunities for art-making and community-building. Shannon Daut, of the City’s Cultural Affairs Office, which provided grant funding for the event, wants you to know the Pico Block Party is “a place to see artists and art-making in action and actually make things for yourself”.
For example, exhibiting artist Mariángeles Soto-Díaz, will partner with local youth artists to lead a screenprinting workshop where you can make fabric protest banners with personalized slogans. Or if publishing is your preferred form of protest, make your own zine. This decades-old tradition of counter-cultural self-publishing will be mostly collage-oriented and led Santa Monica High School student artist, Isabelle D’Amico to a community through art and hopes that art can build a community for others. She says, “people find different ways to have their own Community, whether it’s through religion or school or sports or anything like that and I’ve definitely found it through art. It’s important for people to feel connected and supported by that.
While the theme for the event took root before youth activists of Parkland, Florida forced the nation to take notice of youth voices, empowering youth voices isn’t just the goal of the event, it’s one means of a larger effort of the 18th Street Art Center to build bridges with the Pico neighborhood and Santa Monica at large. For Yank, the event is “a way for new audiences that are coming into the community to recognize the history of this neighborhood, to [embrace] this idea of not treating the neighborhood that you walk into as a blank slate but as something with a long history.” According to citydata.com, the 90404 zip code is the city’s most ethnically, socioeconomically, and age- diverse neighborhood.
For those who want to go beyond the festivities of this weekend to dig deeper into issues facing youth, the 18th Street Art Center is hosting its first Community Dinner Dialog on Friday, June 1. Again focusing on youth, youth and adult member of the community as well as community leaders, including members of the Neighborhood Advisory Network, will discuss the youth achievement gap as it manifests in Santa Monica Schools. As the main city liaison to the organization, Daut is well-aware of the importance of events like this and the festival in building community-wide support for maintaining Pico’s identity: “it’s a community that is facing challenges in terms of displacement and things like that. And I think really shining a light on this community is really important.”
As for the youth, high school junior Isabelle D’Amico describes community-building like this: “We say ‘Santa Monica’ and ‘Pico youth’ but it’s really about everybody that wants to be part of this community. And it’s the idea of ‘what does community mean to you?’ It’s about people being supported and feeling like there’s people that you can connect with and share your thoughts with and I think I anybody [is] deserving of that. That’s a big reason that you should come and support all these cool people doing different things and talking about how they all connect and how we all come together and that shouldn’t be limited to any certain group of people.”