Sara Simon | October 2017

Hometown: North Hollywood, California

Major: Architectural Studies, M.Ed

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: Like the majority of the VAPAE teaching artists,  I’ve been involved/interested/obsessed with art making ever since…forever. I have stacks of elementary-aged Sara drawings and vivid memories of putting on my special painting beret before I started my own “studio sessions.” It was very systematic and very involved. As I progressed through middle school and high school, however, I was discouraged by some from pursuing art much further. I needed to separate my “career goals” from my “hobbies,” I needed to think about my future, and I needed to pursue something more “realistic.”  Constantly hearing things like that, coupled with my own ideas of “not being good enough”  really made me doubt whether art was an avenue I could explore. It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I started to revisit the visual arts more seriously. I enrolled in an art class and my teacher supported me tirelessly. She wrote me letters of recommendations, helped me to put together a portfolio for my college applications, but most importantly restored my self confidence. I couldn’t be more grateful to her. After being integrated into the UCLA community, the VAPAE program solidified the fact that I wanted to – and actually COULD– pursue the arts and art teaching professionally.  

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

A: We’re exploring concepts of self, community, and utopia in our studio sessions. We’ve started on metaphorical self portraits using collage techniques, and more recently we’ve worked on mosaics and print making. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be exploring costume design, model building, and sculpture.

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

A: A majority of the students who are in studio sessions this year are returning students from last year, which I think says a lot about the program. Students use this as an opportunity to make connections with their peers and express themselves both visually and verbally. We’re exploring a lot of ideas of community and self that aren’t introduced in the classroom. We’re using art to be introspective, to identify our place in our world, and to brainstorm ideas for a “utopian” future. I think this is a really valuable resource for young artists because, not only are they increasing and practicing their art skills, but they’re also delving deeper into themselves and exploring their own personal interests.  

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 remember taking one cartooning class when I was younger, but it wasn’t anything like what we’re doing in the VAPAE program. We didn’t make art that we wanted to explore or that was related to us in any way. Here in studio sessions, we’re exploring different themes and overall have much more creative freedom. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed during studio sessions is that these young artists are so much more confident in their work than I was at the same age.  Being exposed to multi-media art classes, everyone is exploring, practicing their art skills and finding what works best for them. Two of the major ideas we like to emphasize in the classroom are that there is no “right” or “wrong” art, and that art doesn’t have to be “pretty,” which is something really valuable that I wasn’t taught as a young artist.

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

A: This experience has taught me that I’m basically a college-graduated middle schooler.  We’ll talk about things like cartoons, Star Wars, and Pokemon cards in depth. I also get just as excited as our young artists about art making and the outcomes. We’re all exploring different ideas/techniques together and we never stop learning and growing.

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

A: I personally enjoy coming to class every week and seeing these young artists create things that are way out of my league. I’m also just really honored to be a part of these young artists lives and hope that I’m making a positive contribution to their learning.

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: Of course, absolutely, yes, for sure, definitely, 100%, the VAPAE program was a good choice for me. I am so grateful for this program and all the wonderful experiences that came from it. I worked in an elementary classroom developing and teaching my own art unit, traveled to Northern California and worked alongside art therapists and educators to implement a community program, fabricated a set designed entirely out of cardboard and duct tape for a professional show, and I’m currently working with middle schoolers to create some really amazing art pieces. I wouldn’t have had any of these experiences had it not been for the VAPAE program.     

Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions (or Arts Education Teaching Sequence) that stand out to you? Perhaps you had a breakthrough 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 have this general fear that students won’t be super into the lessons we come up with, especially middle and high school students. I just kind of assume that they’re “too cool” for whatever I have to offer, so I’m always trying to gauge where everyone is. My very first day of studio sessions, before class even started, I heard a knock on our closed classroom door. I opened it with a plan to let students know we’d get started in just a few minutes. I opened the door and before I could say anything an eager artist asked, “is this art class? I just want to make sure I’m in the right place. It’s my first year here at this school and I really want to be in this class because I feel like I’m an art person.” My heart was just so happy. Any and all fears I had about disinterested students faded away.  I just wanted to make sure that I make this experience super memorable and worthwhile for this student (who, by the way, is definitely an art person.)

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

A: Right now I’m working on completing my graduate program, which will hopefully set me up to become a professional educator. My long term career goals are always changing but always art related. I’ve thought about/ explored set design, fabrication, art therapy, informal and formal arts education, etc. I’m constantly finding out about art-related positions that I never knew existed, which always gives me new possibilities to explore!