‘Keep Calm and Carry on Drawing:' Renowned Painter Mentors Art Program in East Palo Alto

The "Welcome Mr. Hockney" sign was no masterpiece, but renowned artist David Hockney beamed as he appeared before it in an auditorium of students at Costaño Elementary and 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto.

The assembly of students greeted the artist Thursday as part of a program bringing ‘high-need schools’ arts resources, training, and integration. 

"At this point, the feel, the culture of the school is improving even with teachers - music at every staff assembly, we're doing arts ice breakers and it's kind of changed the climate," Principal Viviana Espinosa said. "I think what's so interesting about this movement is that it's really focused on having integrated arts not just arts class. We're doing Friday assemblies with music and dance. It's just become a part of the school."

While Espinosa said it’s too early to tell statistically how the arts program is affecting the students, she says she does see it working toward the school's objectives.

"Considering the fact that 62 percent of the children at this site are classified as homeless, you first need to meet those needs," Espinosa said. "Engagement is a priority. Making it feel safe, warm and a place that they want to be is a priority." 

While Jakhim Hendrix, an eighth-grade student at Costaño Elementary finished his piece on one of the iPads scattered around the room, he said he is most excited about incorporating technology into an activity he loves.

"I think what's different about this art class is that you're implementing technology and you're more hands on," Hendrix said. "You're taking art and you're taking technology and you're colliding them together to make something really cool and stimulate your mind while doing something that you love and I love art."

The program is funded by Turnaround Arts: California, co-founded by architect Frank Gehry, and is supported by local sponsors like Facebook, which has had an ongoing presence in community projects nearby the company's headquarters in Menlo Park.

"This is a good intersection of technology and art," Lauren Swezey, Community Outreach and Sustainability Manager at Facebook said. "We're excited to bring this program to the community because it's just one more great element of education and bringing engagement to the students and expanding their skill set..."

The school became a part of the arts initative in May of last year after an expansion of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities as well as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, according to the program.

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