Pop-Arc Programming Launches at Inner-City Arts in Los Angeles

SCI-Arc students and Design Immersion Days & Youth Outreach Coordinator Mira Henry explored the relationship between creative thinking and making with a group of high school students from Inner-City Arts at ZOOM!, a one-day immersive workshop. The arts-focused, LA-based community organization of 25+ years played host to one of the Institute’s first installments of POP-Arc, a community outreach program in the spirit of pop-up events. 

The one-day workshop was planned as more than a day of exploration for the high school students; it was also a seminar for graduate and undergraduate students. “The curriculum was called ZOOM! because we wanted to look at how playing with scale changes the way we can see objects in the world,” Henry says.  

Organized with the assistance of the SCI-Arc students and SCI-Arc Undergraduate Program Chair Tom Wiscombe, the curriculum was framed around architectural order and disorder, and introduced Inner-City Arts students to the idea of materiality. Following a brief lecture on principles of organization, students used bottle corks, toothpicks, rubber bands, packing peanuts, straws, chopsticks, and other objects in the world that are unitized, to make models with seemingly disorderly material by thinking through rules and order. 

The first part of the workshop, Ruling the Unruly, challenged the 25 high school students to make models, or sculptures, from the materials provided, with oversight from the SCI-Arc visitors. “The group we worked with are interested in visual arts and design, but had no formal background, so we provided hands-on support,” Henry says. 

The second phase, Seeing Through Color, directed students to spray-paint the entirety of his or her object to dematerialize it, and refocus views through the lens of abstraction. The third phase, Staging Scale, allowed the students to reimagine their models through photography. The models were photographed against a series of backdrops with forced perspective grids in order to play optical tricks of scale and orientation. Photographs were then digitally edited, printed, and hung for a pop-up exhibition at the school. 

“The gallery display is getting rave reviews and has piqued interest from other teaching artists, who are asking if they can be involved in the next workshop,” shared Angela Villarreal, a teaching artist in Inner-City Arts’ Creativity Lab. 

SCI-Arc’s growing roster of youth outreach programs are an effort to attract and engage LA’s diverse youth population across LA’s Unified School District, and expose students to  architecture and SCI-Arc. “What’s been interesting for me as DID & Youth Academic Outreach Coordinator is to create opportunities for our own students, too.” Henry says. “It's not just us as faculty going out to do good in the community; our students want to connect to the public, so this opportunity to do it together through organizing and teaching in that context at an arts organization is a nice synergy.”

Henry has begun to work much more closely with students, engaging with them to see where their interest in outreach overlaps with the institutional goals of the school. Though the program is in its nascency, Henry says each small step feels like it’s making sense for the school and is excited about what those opportunities may provide. “We all want to feel like we’re doing something good, and connected to reality,” she continues. “That can be achieved in many ways. One way I like to think about it is by seeing design as a site for humor and delight which can be a way to engage a broader audience. 

SCI-Arc will continue to roll out a growing network of Pop-Arc programs, both locally and internationally, in the near future.