Your donation dollars at work

Burning Man architect and Big Picture Arts Project founder Andrew Johnstone, left, teaches Lincoln Continuation High School junior Maryssela Kidd, right, how to use an airbrush on June 1 in Johnstone’s American Steel Studios space in West Oakland. Kidd was one of three Lincoln Continuation High School students from San Leandro who were working with Johnstone on a mural that will be displayed near the corner of East 14th Street and West Juana Avenue. (Bay Area News Group/Darin Moriki)
June 10, 2017 at 4:07 am

OAKLAND — In middle school, Maryssela Kidd and her friends read popular manga series — Japanese graphic novels and comic books — and tried their hand at drawing anime characters from Japanese movies or shows.

“All of a sudden, it opened this door for me because I realized I could make characters and stuff in the way that I see them, and people actually liked it,” Kidd recalled in an interview.

Kidd, a junior at San Leandro’s Lincoln Continuation High School, has not lost that interest in art and is now taking part with two other students painting a mural. The students spent a week with Burning Man artist Andrew Johnstone, who taught them creative painting techniques to create a 16-by-4-foot mural called “Spacetime from a breath of air.”

“I love all different types of colors; I like what I create to be vivid. And when I look on what I used to draw, I laugh because I sucked. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t good and I thought I was at one point, but now, when I look back, I think, ‘Wow, this is big improvement,’ ” Kidd said.

“If you can do something like this and bring it into a three-dimensional world, it just adds more character and flavor even when there are flaws that you think are flaws,” Lincoln Continuation High School senior Xavier Houston said during a brief respite. “To other people, it may look like the best thing they’ve seen in their whole entire life.

“It’s a cool thing to be able to show people what I can do. It’s just great to bring a smile to someone’s face because I was able to show them my talents and even show them what they’re capable of,” he added.

The nearly $3,000 mural, commissioned by the Downtown San Leandro Improvement Association, features a young girl blowing bubbles in the shape of planets, to symbolize a child’s innocence and imagination. It is one of several Bay Area murals Johnstone has worked on through a nonprofit he established, Big Picture Arts Program, which aims to help young graffiti offenders express themselves through fine art, drawing and painting.

“There’s 12-step for everything, from drugs and alcohol to shopping and hoarding, but I don’t see any programs like it for taggers,” Johnstone said last week in his small space in American Steel Studios, where welders, metalworkers, painters, woodworkers and others work side by side in a 6-acre West Oakland warehouse.

“People need an outlet for their instincts, whether it’s playing the horn, playing basketball or painting. And if you don’t have it or suppress it, it will find a negative path, and that usually is on the street,” he said.

Plans to create the mural began nearly nine months ago, when the Downtown San Leandro Improvement Association began exploring ways to enliven areas along East 14th Street with more public art, the organization’s secretary Angele Sweet said in an interview. The mural will be installed near East 14th Street and West Juana Avenue.

“We have a lot of banks and big, blank walls, so there’s a lot of opportunity for color and making things more vibrant, but we also like the fact that we’re supporting local artists and working with a community group to help bring something for everybody to enjoy,” Sweet said.

“We also like the idea that these kids or adults can come down and see it and have pride in that; this is a downtown that we want everyone to come to, have respect for and love,” she said.

The mural also serves as a starting point for other planned public art projects in San Leandro’s downtown corridor, Sweet said.

Stepping Stones Growth Center, of San Leandro, is working with the Downtown San Leandro Improvement Association on a public art project that will allow the nonprofit’s developmentally disabled clients to decorate concrete planters on East 14th Street with mosaic tiles, depicting the history of San Leandro. That project is scheduled to take place in the fall, Sweet said.

Another overarching goal is to spotlight a need for a broader range of art programs in schools to foster artistic talent and in the community for graffiti offenders, Johnstone said.

“I’m convinced that alternative education is full of artists, kids who have no outlet for that, because now we’re focusing everything on technology and science. But we’ve completely ignored the part of us that are artists,” Lincoln Continuation High School English teacher Melanie Blagburn said.

“I know my classes are full of artists, and they’re so talented,” she said.

For Houston, there is some good happening in San Leandro and in the Bay Area.

“When I was a kid growing up here, I met a whole bunch of artists in general, including those in the music, painting and culinary fields; I’ve talked to classical instrumentalists who do hip-hop on the side,” Houston said.

“I’ve looked and talked to almost anyone you can think of just because of what this area brings, and that’s why I really like the Bay Area. When you talk about the Bay Area and how it’s so different from the rest of the country, it’s because we, as a region and state, understand that people should be who they want to be and not just be told who to be,” he said.

Alameda County Art Leadership Award.

Here is a slide show of some recent projects and news . See the recent Dewey Academy project in the Tides blog 

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Putting up a Front (with The Big Picture Project)

The Big Picture Project is a Tides Center project aimed at art mentorship with at-risk youth, particularly those who use graffiti as their outlet. As professional artists, we recognize and encourage natural born talent in the completion of public art projects, encouraging participants to hold a higher vibration and make art without victims.

The Big Picture Project was contacted by Dewey Academy Principal, Hattie Tate, to lead a mural project to grace a building on campus housing it’s new “cyber-high” and vocational programs.

A Golden Opportunity

How can one describe Dewey Academy continuation high school in Oakland?

Oakland Unified School District is more famous for it’s challenges than it’s successes. It’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, budget crisis is a constant struggle as it deals with a $29,000,000 deficit and student intake is dominated by underprivileged urban single parent black/hispanic youth. Within this bleak educational environment, if you are a Oakland student who has exhausted all other venues and has earned the “problem student” label you may well end up at Dewey as a last chance.

A Dewey student may typically be a convicted offender on probation with a GPS anklet, come from a home where violence is common place, gang member, or teen Mother. They live in an unpredictable world where compassion is looked upon as weakness.

Beyond all this Dewey is golden. It’s staff are a dream team of professionals and provide security, hope, council and two hot meals, making it more of a home than most know elsewhere. I “get” what Hattie and her staff are doing and am proud for Tides and Big Picture to be a part.

“Survive & Thrive”

The cyber-high building was a “grey” block in every sense, tucked away across from the main campus it did little to inspire or excite the sprits of the students. It occupies a space where the only vantage point is from the road at an oblique angle and demanding a complicated technique called anamorphic perspective to achieve a convincing trompe l’oiel illusion at a particular “station point” as the viewer passes down the street. The colors also had to be gang neutral.

Ms. Tate wanted her war cry “Survive & Thrive” to be the subject of the mural and I worked with the students on a computer to model the words in 3d and establish a perspective “station point”.

I began the project with a walk through of the site and asking the crew to foresee any problems that we may encounter and giving formulas to estimate our materials. Most of the crew are “taggers” but some are “piecers” painting gorgeous eye popping works rather than the machine-gun scatter of tags and easily got their heads around the geometry and were genuinely excited by its concept.

My working style is to get the energy up and get a project bubbling like a chef’s kitchen, getting tasks assigned and helping or encouraging as needed… always moving towards an aiming point for that days session, but working with these youth was more of a challenge. They are reluctant to accept direction, are easily distracted and are quick to misconstrue a simple request or interaction as a personal threat. I find that the best way to deal with this is to find the groups natural leader and make him my deputy. By making him or her my “main Dude” or “crew chief” I redirect some of the tasks to the group through one of their own and this diffuses resistance to my direction.

The habitual wearing of ipod buds or “Saggin” (pants around the knees) are badges of street credibility and not given up without a fight, but are real safety issues when dealing with ladders and tools. Yet with a bit of humor and leg-pulling I even here manage to get compromise, making a big deal of lending one of the guys my own belt and going over how to use it. It broke any tension and the crew joked and laughed all afternoon.

Built to Last

As we completed the side of the building, the front of the building looked contrastingly shabby and with the irresistible enthusiasm and persuasion of Ms. Tate we completed the job by making a new marquee for the building in time for the ribbon cutting.

“DEWEY ACADEMEY” was designed in a classic art nouveau font and cut from plywood before each letter was gilded and placed on a 24′ black background. Up there on the ladders with sweat and skinned knuckles, these guys bolted the very name of the school they rebel against and when done, they stepped back across the street to see it glinting in the Sun. They were a little quiet at first, no one wanted to break the spell they had just cast. They then looked at each other grinning, coming unglued with whoops and hi-fives.

I gathered them close. “Many years after you are all gone from Dewey this will still be here… we built it to last. You maybe will bring your own kids to see this and tell them the story of what we did here and what you have done since… You make sure that story is a good one to tell.”


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