Brianda Perez | June 2015

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Major: Design | Media Arts

Minor: Visual and Performing Arts Education

Q: A little background about you: Name, Hometown, degree major, year of graduation (or year of study if you are not a graduate yet) and the type of art that you focus on.

A: My name is Brianda Perez and I am from Los Angeles, California. I graduated from UCLA in March 2014 with a B.A. in Design|Media Arts and a minor in Visual and Performing Arts Education. My art practice is mainly centered in the realm of digital media, primarily graphic design and photography. However, I also have a deep interest in bookmaking and printmaking.

Q: How did you discover your interest in art and how did you know that it was something that you wanted to pursue professionally, as an artist or as an art teacher?

A: I think my interest in art has gradually grown with me as I have gotten older. As a child my exposure to the visual arts was minimal, although my parents never discouraged it. If anything, wanting to be a teacher was discouraged, what with them supposedly not making “enough” money. My family’s photo studio really encouraged me to pursue my interest in photography and after we bought our first computer when I was eleven did the idea of being a graphic designer take hold. However, I never took any formal art classes and most of what I know about design was self-taught until I got into UCLA. As for dancing, I received four full years of it in high school and I loved it. Modern dance and tap dance were great…although stage fright has always been my demise. Needless to say, after years if being told that being a teacher wasn’t all that great (even by some of my own teachers) when I found out about the VAPAE program and the Arts Education Teaching Sequence, I was game to teach kids like me that art isn’t actually all that unobtainable—especially if you have some Internet know-how.

Q: Describe what the young artists in your VAPAE studio sessions are working on and the process they’re using.

A: Our students at Studio Sessions @ St. Sophia’s are currently exploring the art of sculpture through the creation of Trees of Life. They began the project by identifying what they consider to be the major aspects of their identity, as well as by creating lists of their personal interests. They then created symbols for all these different aspects of themselves and began working with natural clay to bring their creations to life. Alongside our sculpture projects, they have been working on accordion books that are collections of their weekly warm-ups. In these warm-ups they created mixed media paintings, recreated iPhone photos using collage, worked on stamping, and much more. The warm-ups serve as a way for them to explore different forms of art, as well as a break from sculpting during studio time.

Q: Why is an enrichment opportunity like this important for those participating? What do they gain?

A: An opportunity to learn about art is important because the majority of the students in this neighborhood don’t have the chance to learn about it in school, especially as they get older. Unfortunately I feel that it has always been this way—I grew up down the street, I know from personal experience! However, that doesn’t mean that the talent doesn’t exist, it just doesn’t have the opportunity to shine. By providing students with a studio space where they can freely express themselves, have the respect of their instructors and peers, and let them know that anything goes, you start to cultivate a greater appreciation of the arts. And this isn’t only an appreciation you spark in the students, but also in the families and the community that may otherwise see this as “another nice activity” to keep kids out of trouble. You teach them that the arts aren’t just another “thing”, but a tool that promotes critical thinking and social change. Students also get to do something that they like. They aren’t forced to come to class, they opt to take it. They aren’t forced to work on any particular project, they have a say in what they want to work on. We want to show students that they have a choice, they have a chance to voice their opinions, and that they most certainly should ask questions—I know I didn’t have the guts to do any of these things, especially at their age, and it’s important that they realize that now.

Q: Did you have an opportunity like this when you were a younger artist? If yes, how did it help shape your love of art? If no, in what ways could a program like this have helped you?

A: Yes, and no. In elementary school, you could take thirty minute music classes during the school day, but only if you were doing well in class. In middle school, you had to be lucky enough to be sorted into a music class (I wasn’t) and we didn’t have an visual arts class. Everything changed when I went to high school. I was lucky and got into the Performing Arts Magnet at Hollywood High where my interest in the arts would grow, but with limited exposure to the visual arts, I turned to performing. I think as a young artist, if I had had the chance to attend a program like this it probably would have obviously sparked my interest in the visual arts much earlier, so much so that I could probably draw way better now than what I can currently do. I would have learned to appreciate and try things more, rather than being timid and telling myself, “You can’t do that, you lack the talent.” Maybe it may have also elevated my self-esteem and taught me to appreciate my own talents as I got older.

Q: What has this experience as a teaching artist/ facilitator taught you about yourself?

A: I think that being a teaching artist has taught me that I have more abilities than I think I do and that I have a need to learn more for my students. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have been in class with my students and with Brittany, my co-teacher, and said to myself, “I didn’t know that” or thought, “Hey! That’s something I had never thought about before.” I think it also teaches me that middle schoolers are much wiser than we sometimes give them credit to be. They pick up everything, they are constantly changing, and sometimes, as frustrating as it is, they make you realize that you’re not as cool as you think you are. It’s really humbling and I appreciate them so much when I can learn from them. It keeps me on my toes. Oh, and problem solving! Never has problem solving been so pertinent in my life more than when I am sitting with my students trying to help them out with their projects.

Q: What do you personally gain as a teaching artist/facilitator?

A: Experience. Experience is the number one thing that I can say I gain. Every time I walk into the classroom, I learn something new. I can’t say that I have never walked out of class without having learned something—whether that be about my students, about teaching, about art, how to do something, something new is attained every time. It might be simple, like how to mix a certain color, or really complex, like having a conversation about the concept of “nothing” and it’s relation to the number zero and a blank sheet of paper. Experience is my number one take away.

Q: What are the benefits to you as a student/graduate in the UCLA VAPAE program? Was this program a good choice for you? If so, why?

A: When I initially applied to the VAPAE Program, I did it on a whim. I knew I had interest in teaching, I knew that I could do art, but I didn’t know if that would be my eventual career path. I think I just really wanted to do something that would expose me to this profession that I had been told was good for society, but not great for money. As a graduate from the VAPAE Program, I have come to realize that all the above holds some truth, but that I absolutely love it and can’t picture myself doing anything else. The benefits are right there when I’m teaching a class and gaining experience. They are there when I’m sitting re-writing a lesson plan because I learned a better way to explain and/or do something. They are also there when I am putting everything that I learned in those four years at university into practice. I’m practicing what I preach, which I know not everyone gets the chance to do and especially not so soon after leaving school. The added bonus is that it makes me happy that I’m doing something that I love.

Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions that stand out to you? Perhaps you had a break‐through with a student or saw some particularly noticeable growth in that student through this program, collaboration etc. Maybe something surprised you or made you think about art or teaching in a new way.

A: I mentioned this before, as well, but there was this one time where I was very surprised by the critical thinking abilities of our student Javier. The thing about Javier is that it’s hard for him sit still. He likes to get up and walk around, chat, get distracted, etc., but he always manages to finish everything. He dreams of being a lawyer and has a very logical mind. This I realized when we were talking about “nothing.” I asked him why he wasn’t working—he has been sitting staring at his paper for a long time. He was supposed to work on his “I Dream of Peace” project where students create a painting of what their idea of a peaceful world would look like. He turned to me and said, “My mind is blank. I don’t think peace can exist.” We proceeded to spell out why he thought peace couldn’t exist, why peace would equate to “nothing happening at all”, and why the number zero couldn’t actually mean “nothing” because it was a representation of something. Personally, that was the most interesting conversation I have had in all my life and it happened with a 12-year-old. He had such a critical opinion about what peace actually meant that it took me aback. He had also figured out that he couldn’t create a painting of what nothing looked like because it would no longer be “nothing, but something” and that just wouldn’t do and that was the most surprising part. I don’t think he ended up creating a painting in the end because our conversation took so long that we moved on to a different class activity, but I’m convinced he finished it anyway because of how much thought he had actually put into it. This is also how I came to the conclusion that he is going to make a great lawyer.

Q: What are your short-term and long‐term career goals?

A: My current short-term goal is to get into the Teacher Education Program at Loyola Marymount University, so that I might get my teaching credential and Masters in Education. I don’t know when that will happen, but I’m hoping for sooner rather than later. I’m also planning on picking up on a photo manipulation project that I abandoned some time ago and perhaps creating a few artist’s book out of whatever I create. Learning to drive is also on this list. My ultimate long-term goal is to open a free workshop for students in high school and college that need a fabrication or general work space. It would hopefully have all the equipment, materials, and help they would need. I would also hope to have space next to or around this workshop where they could exhibit their work. A mobile art truck is also on this list, but that is only possible if I can reach the “learning to drive” goal in the short-term goals list.