Kevin Anthony Michini | November 2016

Hometown: Garden Grove, California

Major: Art History

Minor: Visual and Performing Arts Education


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

A: I was mostly involved in sports as a youth. From the moment I could pick up a bat and throw a ball, I was playing football, baseball and soccer. Although I enjoyed the team dynamic from participating in sports, I never really connected to the game. I preferred to draw, color and write poems as far back as I could remember. I took my first photography class once I got into the 7th grade; I was hooked to the dark room ever since. My high school did not offer photography, so I had to continue to practice photographing on my own, developing my skills and spending my earned money at the local pawn shop to buy ‘new’ film cameras and equipment. I studied photography on and off in community college until I finally decided to enroll in the Academy of Art, San Francisco. After a couple years of study at the Academy, I was picked up by a local agent and I started showing my black and white 35mm stills in solo and group shows throughout the Bay Area. The ability to see and photograph similarities in strangers and cultures connected me to my community through the lens. I think this perspective was transferred to my audience and I was able to make a decent living as a fine art artist, but it was not enough to cover the cost of living in San Francisco. After I moved back to Southern California, I decided to teach photography out of necessity at my after school programs. The program I worked for lost it’s funding in its second year after I arrived and so I felt the need to create cost-friendly enrichment workshops that would enhance the student’s tutoring and knowledge of self. Also, after moving to Los Angeles I was no longer printing in my darkroom and so I wanted to share my love for viewing the world in different ways with the marginalized student populations I work with in Venice Community Housing’s education programs.

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

A: The artists in my program are all high school students from Venice High School ranging in ages and grades. It’s a critical time of personal, academic and social identification for them, so I am using a curriculum designed from the VAPAE capstone sequence based on the concept of exploring: Who Am I? Through photography, students explore their school, their community and themselves by using 35mm film cameras. I feel it’s important to use film and not digital media because there is a sequence of thinking about what you want to shoot with your cameras before going out and taking pictures that we cover as a foundation for creating photographic compositions; it is expected that there is a clear intention of your photograph, not just random shooting that can sometimes happen when using digital cameras with virtually unlimited shots. The students compile their selected images from the program to create a small narrative of 5-7 photos—referred to as a PhotoEssay—that helps share who they are with their community, as well as their views of their school and their community.

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

A: For one, I think it is important because I personally did not have this opportunity in school, and this was during an era when arts and vocational programs were still being funded by the state. But also it’s important because practicing the arts helps students understand their ‘core’ subjects better; it helps them make sense out of their education and the world around them by creating connections between disciplines. Also, 21st century job skills demand for Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking. Through participating in the arts, students gain all these skills and the community becomes a better place because of it. 

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: I never had an opportunity like this in school when I was younger. I had to create these opportunities myself in between my after school sports programs. If I would have had this opportunity I would have found ways to express myself in a more positive and clearer way. When I struggled with my identity, I focused on what I knew—being the best athlete—even though I knew I did not want to be a professional athlete. I probably would have had a stronger connection to school, a stronger belief in myself and most likely stayed away from some of the negative influences and habits that I participated in during my 20s had I had a more intensive arts education opportunity.

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

A: Most importantly, it has taught me how to be a better, more engaged and more inclusive teacher. The practices and evaluation tools provide by the VAPAE team really help me reflect on my processes and how they are impacting students and my community. We get feedback from our peers, from our experienced and knowledgeable staff, and most importantly from the students we serve. I love it! I may never be perfect, but as long as I continue to strive for excellence, I hope someday to be close to being an excellent teaching artist.

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

A: Since I work full time with a somewhat volatile and high needs student population, being a teaching artist for VAPAE gives me a sense of balance. It’s a way to release, recharge and reset myself. Being a teaching artist is self-care for me and helps me get through the stresses that I face in my professional world. Even though I am teaching, I am still practicing art and communication standards that help me process, resolve and move forward. It is rewarding to be a part of dedicated community and help students create images that will last a lifetime.

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: The benefit is tied to a long term goal: to become the Director of Education at a major museum like LACMA, The International Center of Photography or The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I get to learn how to develop arts-based curricula that is supported by national and state standards; I get to practice my curriculum with actual students; and I get to collaborate with an extremely talented team of administrators and artists that are aligned through a similar vision of creating quality education through the promotion of the arts. The choice to be a part of the VAPAE team and minor was good and bad. The good: it’s VAPAE! The bad: my minor overshadows my major now (art history), and all I want to do is study visual and performing arts education now.

Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions (or Arts Education Teaching Sequence) 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 am constantly learning from my students and co-teachers of the VAPAE Studio Sessions. Many tools and resources have been ‘stolen’ (or borrowed) that were shared while taking the Arts Education Teaching Sequence last year. I use these tools as ice breaker and energizers in my programs regularly.I am always fascinated by what my students are learning and their impression of the studio sessions. Recently while at Venice High School, I was given the school’s newspaper which had an article titled “Students Take Photos in New Club After School.” In the article, a couple students of the program were interviewed and reported to the paper that “The teacher encourages unity and being comfortable with each other,” and “they teach us new things and how to see the world…” I love these quotes from the two students because they do not directly reflect photography. Instead, their comments focus on community building, inclusivity, tolerance and perspective. That’s the business for me! Photography and art is not the end game, it’s just a tool to engage, express, create and build. I love it! These responses satisfy my soul and help explain why I said earlier that being a teaching artist is self-care: being a part of a community that I helped design is my chi—my happy place. I always want to be in that space. 

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

A: Again, my one of my long term goals is to be the director of education for a major museum. In the short term, I would really like to see VAPAE create a permanent presence at Venice High, which hopefully includes advocating for the reclamation of their student darkroom. It would also be nice to see VAPAE expand to taking their programs beyond the walls of juvenile camps and into reentry programs.Academically, I plan to take a year off from school after graduating in 2017 to focus on my professional career as the Associate Director of the Venice YouthBuild program I work for. After a year, I will be applying to graduate programs that offer Visual and Performing Arts Education on the East Coast, West Coast and Midwest.