The Watchful Eye of SMMoA Keeps Art Creation In The Classroom

SMMoA Helps Students Pursue Interest In Fine Art

Monday, 14 Nov 2011, 12:44:00 AM

Brenton Garen

The Santa Monica Museum of Art is currently exhibiting its most extensive educational public art program called “WallWorks: The Walls Have Eyes.” Pictured is SMMoA Director of Education Asuka Hisa (left) and Executive Director Elsa Longhauser.
Photo by Damon Biviano
The Santa Monica Museum of Art is currently exhibiting its most extensive educational public art program called “WallWorks: The Walls Have Eyes.” Pictured is SMMoA Director of Education Asuka Hisa (left) and Executive Director Elsa Longhauser.

In 2001, the Santa Monica Museum of Art started to notice a trend it wanted to change – more and more local schools had begun to reduce or eliminate their art programs when faced with budget cutbacks. That’s when committed staff at SMMoA began to brainstorm, and what was born was the concept of “Wall Works.”

Ten years on, the “Wall Works” program is now SMMoA’s most extensive educational public art program. To date, it has connected 19 acclaimed contemporary artists with the imaginations of about 5,500 local students from more than 50 different schools.

SMMoA Director of Education Asuka Hisa has been behind the project since its inception. The Museum provides all participating schools with free supplies, lesson plans, and instructions, including a museum-produced video featuring an artist who walks students through a specific art project.

On Oct. 26, more than 500 kindergarten through 12th grade participating students and their families celebrated the opening of the latest project called “Wall Works: The Walls Have Eyes,” which is currently on display at SMMoA through Feb. 26, 2012.

“Wall Works is just this incredible collaboration between the museum, the schools, the teachers, the students, the parents, the families, the Bergamot Station arts complex, the community, everyone comes together to make this happen,” Hisa said. “It couldn’t be done without everyone pulling their weight.”

The latest “Wall Works” project is collaboration with Los Angeles-based ceramic artist Peter Shire, founder of Echo Park Pottery, who was chosen as his craft ties in with the current ceramic exhibition “Beatrice Wood: Career Woman-Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects” that’s on display in the Museum’s Main Gallery through March 3, 2012.

The 10-minute museum-produced video featured Shire who provided instructions and insight for the students so they could create their very own artistic ceramic tiles.

As the largest single project to date, the 20 participating K-12 classrooms involved in the project (19 from SMMUSD, one from Topanga) each watched the video and every one of the 506 participating students received a ceramic tile.

In the video, Shire explained two techniques on how to get artistic with the ceramic tiles.

“One of them is using under glaze with a brush, and the other one is called sgraffito, which is an etching or scratching into it,” Hisa said. “So he demonstrated you could just paint, or you could paint and then go over the glaze with a long hardware nail.”

She said Shire spoke about the imagery of eyes for the project.

“He uses physical features in his own work,” she said. “He says that eyes are the window into the soul.”

Each “eye” now hangs upon the “Wall Works” gallery in Bergamot Station Art Center’s G-Hallway, adjacent to the Museum, enlivening the space with hundreds of eyes.

Nine-year-old Roxy Rong, of Roosevelt Elementary School, said she liked making the eye because it inspired thought on the kinds of expressions people make with their eyes.

“I tried to make mine look shocked because I like it when people look shocked,” Rong said, opening her own brown eyes very wide. “Making this eye made me feel free – like a bird.”

Alia Campanotto, 7, of Edison Language Academy, said she enjoyed becoming an artist through the project.

“It was really fun,” Campanotto said. “We got to see how a real artist makes his work, and then we got a chance to do it, too. Now I know how to work with ceramics.”

Support for “Wall Works” is generously provided by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, The Malkin Family, Target, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and the Wayne and Shoshana Blank Family Trust.

SMMoA is located at the Bergamot Station, Building G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Sunday, Monday, and all legal holidays. Suggested donation is $5; $3 for seniors and students. For further information about exhibitions and programs, call 310.586.6488 or visit

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