Canoga Park Arts Centre, Community Fusion Project, Los Angeles

A Dad cre­ates work with chil­dren at Canoga Park Arts Cen­tre Com­mu­nity Fusion

Ear­lier this month, I was for­tu­nate to be invited to Los Ange­les to present sev­eral Com­mu­nity Fusion Project events. As a guest of the San Fernando/Santa Clarita Child Abuse Pre­ven­tion Coun­cil, my son Jake (a tal­ented gui­tarist in his own right) and I led three ses­sions in the com­mu­ni­ties of Canoga Park and Pacoima in the San Fer­nando Val­ley. Over 120 par­tic­i­pants and fam­i­lies from the com­mu­ni­ties took part in The Com­mu­nity Fusion Project in three ses­sions over two days, and boy — was it amaz­ing and exhaust­ing all at the same time!

Canoga Park Youth Arts Centre acted as the venue for the first two ses­sions in Canoga Park. This won­der­ful arts cen­tre serves chil­dren and youth from ages 0–17 and is funded by the City of Los Ange­les. The cen­tre also part­ners with Taxco, Mex­ico in cross-cultural inter­na­tional exchanges. Led by Direc­tor Stu­art Vaughan, the Canoga Park Youth Arts Cen­tre is a lit­tle bit of art heaven as far as I am con­cerned. The facil­i­ties are bright, airy and offer an out­door area, gallery, work­shop, admin­is­tra­tion offices and Mac com­puter lab all under one roof. Stu­art part­ners with area artists to offer work­shops and oppor­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren and youth to learn, exper­i­ment and take part in arts activ­i­ties through­out the year. While cut­backs have affected this small facil­ity and Los Ange­les has not escaped the reces­sion, this cul­tural flower is still flour­ish­ing in it’s multi-cultural community.

Talking with the drum together

Talk­ing with the drum together

It was our plea­sure to work with Stu­art, (also a prac­tic­ing artist) to bring about a stel­lar expe­ri­ence for the fam­i­lies of Canoga Park. Any­thing we needed, Stu­art worked quickly and effi­ciently to pro­vide, and took part in the ses­sions him­self. No mean feat, con­sid­er­ing there was an exhi­bi­tion on in the gallery space which we occu­pied dur­ing the event.

With a strong and will­ing slate of vol­un­teers, the space was trans­formed into a giant stu­dio for the day where com­mu­nity, staff, chil­dren and adults all gath­ered to “play” and take a chance to move out­side their own com­fort zones in an effort to form rela­tion­ships and build com­mu­nity, using art-forms to dia­logue with each other.

Preparing with everyone at Canoga Park in the garden area

Cir­cle Time in the court­yard at Canoga Park Art Centre

The cen­tre has a lovely out­side court­yard annexed to the build­ing. There, we gath­ered before and after our ses­sions to con­nect with each other in the out­door environment.

One of the most touch­ing moments in a Com­mu­nity Fusion ses­sion is after we have cre­ated the work together. The shar­ing cir­cle allows par­tic­i­pants to talk about their expe­ri­ence together and dis­cuss their indi­vid­ual insights into the process and their engage­ment with each other. As a facil­i­ta­tor in these ses­sions, I am always incred­i­bly moved by how deeply the ses­sions touch the par­tic­i­pants and how will­ing they are to share these indi­vid­ual moments of con­nec­tion with each other.

Exhibit­ing this level of vul­ner­a­bil­ity with fam­ily and com­mu­nity is one of the ways we develop empathic rela­tion­ships with each other, and learn to rely upon the indi­vid­ual lead­er­ship strengths in our community.

Sharing a moment with the children

A grand­mother shares a moment draw­ing on the floor with children.

Com­mu­nity Fusion is an inter­gen­er­a­tional expe­ri­ence, and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of elders and grand­par­ents in the com­mu­nity is inte­gral to the ses­sions. There is a spe­cial con­nec­tion between gen­er­a­tions when we par­tic­i­pate in art­ful play together. The photo at the right shows a grand­mother seated on the floor, co-creating a draw­ing with sev­eral young chil­dren. It truly “takes a vil­lage” when engag­ing in this work together, and the value of wis­dom at any age is exhib­ited. This lovely lady in par­tic­u­lar let me know how sur­prised she was that she took so quickly to try­ing out new things with the paint and instru­ments avail­able in the project.

Fernando paints at The Community Fusion Project

Fer­nando was totally engaged in this com­mu­nity paint­ing — big­ger than he was!

Get­ting into the “zone” is a com­mon expe­ri­ence that par­tic­i­pants share. The young boy in the photo above cer­tainly found his method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and was absorbed and thought­ful in his com­mu­nity com­mu­ni­ca­tion using paint. At the begin­ning of a ses­sion, this 40x72 inch white can­vas can be a very daunt­ing player in the room, but Fer­nando knew intrin­si­cally that this is where he wanted to “talk” with others.

Works cre­ated in the Com­mu­nity Fusion ses­sions are cre­ated together — no one “owns” a space, a paint­ing, a musi­cal instru­ment or sculp­ture. Every­one shares in the cre­ation of the works, mak­ing a mark or con­tri­bu­tion where they feel it is respect­ful and needed. It is phe­nom­e­nal to see the vol­ume and vari­ety of the works cre­ated in a sin­gle ses­sion when every­one works together.

Group drawing

Group draw­ing

Painting on the floor

Paint­ing on the floor

Group painting

Group Paint­ing

Beautiful little girls playing the keyboard together

Duet with each other — pro­vid­ing the sound­scape for creating.

Many thanks to all the par­tic­i­pants, vol­un­teers and espe­cially to the Santa Clarita/San Fer­nando Val­ley Child Abuse Coun­cil for invit­ing us into their hearts and lives. Together, we’ve cre­ated more new family!


Drum­ming as a cre­ative voice in the community

For more pho­tos of the project, visit pho­tog­ra­pher Mik Milman’s site.