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Meet Karina Esperanza Yanez of Greetings from South L.A in South Central Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karina Esperanza Yanez.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Art has been at the forefront of everything I have done since I was a little girl. In school, I did okay, what kept me interested the whole time was drawing and painting. As I got older I would try to explore different aspects of art, in the third grade I wanted to be an architect and became fixated on creating buildings out of popsicle sticks, in the sixth or seventh grade I wanted to be a comic book illustrator, and by the time I reached high school, I remember I became so lost.

My grades were pretty bad at the time, I was in summer school every summer trying to make up a math class I failed. If there was any creative component to an assignment, I would excel. However, if there wasn’t, it was almost as if I failed on purpose. I would run home after school to create anything. I tried hand sewing, different drawing techniques, tried to teach myself how to paint with oils. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school where I really think things changed. I took my first art class and remember feeling so upset that I was about to graduate high school and didn’t take an art class until that year. By the time I was a senior in high school, I discovered art schools and became so determined to get into one. I knew the CalState or UC option was not for me.

I eventually got accepted into 12 out of the 13 art schools I applied to and ended up choosing to attend CalArts. That summer after graduating from high school, I participated in the CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP) Summer Arts Program and it literally changed my life.

Not only did I meet lifelong friends there, but I was able to work with CalArts faculty and current students. In a lot of ways, it gave me a sense of the kind of community I would eventually spend the next four years in. Once the program ended that summer though I felt that somehow I was stolen from art programs that could have kept me more interested in school. What kept me sane at CalArts was teaching through the CAP. I worked as a student instructor during the whole time I attended CalArts, and each week there was a new challenge, new ideas, and the amazing collective environment that happens when a group of artists just do what they do best. Those environments inspired me.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Finding a job in the arts nonprofit sector was so hard, right out of school. I was determined to work in my community and I kept applying to art administrative positions and either the organization wasn’t the right fit because they primarily worked with students in the Eastside or I needed more experience.

Because of this, I found myself teaching art at a small charter school that was at the time located in the backlot of Hillcrest Elementary. I moved from school to school, even briefly relocating to San Diego for a year. I kept being drawn back to South Central. I eventually returned once more to L.A and taught Visual Art at View Park Preparatory K-8, specifically working with grades TK-5th.

The typical roadblocks though are similar at any school, even though I thought it would be different each time. Art is in the back burner of the educational system until it’s convenient to show off or apply for funding. I wanted to work with students in my community and I wanted to create a space for dialogue and art exploration but 45 minutes once a week was not enough. Not to mention that the kids who arguably need art class the most (those with behavioral problems, special needs, etc.) are often the ones that get pulled out the most from “elective” classes.

I loved the classroom but it felt limiting in a lot of ways. So I started to think about fun alternatives to not only keep students engaged, but I began to think about my possible next steps. That’s how Greetings from South L.A was born.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Greetings from South L.A – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Greetings from L.A is an arts-focused community resource for the youth, educators + families of South Central Los Angeles. Our mission is to promote, advocate for, and foster experiences where the South L.A community can participate in arts and culture. Our vision is to inspire and cultivate future generations of artists and community leaders in South L.A.

I am interested in creating environments where students explore art and their individual interests through different lenses. Through Greetings from South L.A we can create these environments where students can simultaneously explore on their own and wonder but have some guidance, and where they can ask questions. We’ve taken over dozens of field trips over the last three years, we have visited galleries, museums, various parts of L.A through an arts and culture lens, and even Moonwater Farm in Compton. This past year we have also teamed up with local schools to collaborate on large class field trips and art workshops.

Through my experience teaching in the classroom and conversations with parents and colleagues, I saw a need for an arts resource that would make things easier to find for students, families and educators. That’s how the online resource was developed. It has everything from art DIY projects for families, a comprehensive list of free and paid local arts programming for children and teens, and a virtual map of local arts and culture centers near our community of South L.A.

If a student, parent, or teacher wants to find local arts programming for students, they have it. If a parent or guardian wants to know what kinds of cheap materials they can repurpose as art supplies or find cheap good quality paint, they have it. If a parent wants to find out what kinds of art and cultural centers exist within our community to take their kids to (or for themselves) they have it. And if a teacher wants arts integration resources for their classroom, Greetings from South L.A has that resource!

In a sense, this program includes many of the things my K-12 schooling lacked, it fills in the arts gaps. Greetings from South L.A aims to make the arts more accessible to students, their families, and educators for the South Central community.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I wanted to be super thoughtful about how we did programming this summer and fall (if at all). Especially during the pandemic, I felt some things were rushed into an online platform and they didn’t necessarily translate well.

So after some careful planning, guidance, and suggestions from local students, we’re having weekly art sessions and virtual field trips during the summer of 2020. This has been a collaborative process between myself and them. These sessions are tailored to the interests of the students’ grades 4-8 and incorporate some of the discourse I am interested in creating. I am also really excited about our plans for the 2020- 2021 school year and our collaborations with local South L.A High Schools and Middle Schools.

Contact Info:

  • Website: greetingsfromsouthla.org
  • Phone: 3238355128
  • Email: karinaesperanzayanez@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @greetingsfromsouthla

Image Credit:
Karina Esperanza Yanez

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