David Hockney, Frank Gehry Adopt the Arts at Two East Palo Alto Schools

Artist David Hockney offers pointers to an eighth-grader at the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, as part of a program run by Turnaround Arts: California.

Artist David Hockney offers pointers to an eighth-grader at the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, as part of a program run by Turnaround Arts: California. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

David Hockney doesn’t say much to Angela Karamian’s art class when all eyes are upon him. The soft-spoken, world-famous painter simply does what he does best: draw.

The assignment Thursday was to use the software program Brushes to draw a glass vase with flowers on an iPad. With mesmerizing ease, Hockney selects colors and builds a delightful picture, as a classroom of middle schoolers at the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto watches with rapt attention. (Earlier in the day, Hockney taught a class to Costaño Elemetary students who share the same campus.)

At the back of the class, a group of grown-ups responsible for this art lesson watch with the same rapt attention — including world-famous architect Frank Gehry.

The assignment for today in Angela Karamian’s art class, courtesy of Turnaround Arts: California. Costaño/49ers Principal Viviana Espinosa says “It’s especially important in this community right now, with all the obstacles that students face, to have something like art. It’s a place where they can be comfortable. It’s a place where they can express themselves and create a counter narrative.”
The materials for today in Angela Karamian’s art class, courtesy of Turnaround Arts: California. Costaño/49ers Principal Viviana Espinosa says, “It’s especially important in this community right now, with all the obstacles that students face, to have something like art. It’s a place where they can be comfortable. It’s a place where they can express themselves and create a counter narrative.” (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Along with the California Arts Council, Gehry pulled out his own checkbook to help launch the nonprofit organization that brought Hockney here, the California chapter of Turnaround Arts. It’s a private program launched by the Obama Administration in 2011 to narrow achievement gaps in struggling schools.

The idea immediately resonated with Gehry. His sister, Doreen Gehry-Nelson, is a pioneer in design-based learning. Focused on K–12 students, the philosophy focuses children on a physically engaging project, like art. Essentially, they learn complex concepts as they work.

“This engages people at a level that turns their souls and their hearts around,” Gehry says, watching the 49ers class draw. “And their self-respect, because immediately, they’ve got a thing to be proud of.”

David Hockney demonstrates how he uses the program Brushes on an iPad to whip up a quick painting of a vase with flowers. “Everything is there (with Brushes) that you need," says Hockney. Most importantly, “There’s no cleaning up afterwards!”
David Hockney demonstrates how he uses the program Brushes on an iPad to whip up a quick painting of a vase with flowers. “Everything is there (with Brushes) that you need,” says Hockney. Most importantly, “There’s no cleaning up afterwards!” (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

It so happens Gehry has designed an ambitious expansion for Facebook in neighboring Menlo Park. Gehry and Hockney, who both live in Los Angeles, are personal friends.

“He asked me to come,” 80 year-old Hockney says after his demonstration before the class. “I said OK. I haven’t been inside a school for 40 years or more, and it’s very nice. The kids give off energy and I get it back.”

Lauren Swezey, sustainability and community outreach manager at Facebook, shares similarly positive feelings. “We want to be a good neighbor, and education is so important to the local community, and we want to be a part of that.”

Swezey declined to put a dollar amount on Facebook’s contribution to the art program here for Turnaround Arts. But she says Facebook has a habit of giving to local education programs like Code for Fun and Makerspaces.

The school had the iPads. Facebook helped pay for teacher training at Costaño-49ers in the Ravenswood City School District.
The school had the iPads. Facebook helped pay for teacher training at Costaño-49ers in the Ravenswood City School District. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

With Facebook’s financial backing, Turnaround sent one teacher from each grade level at Costaño/49ers to participate in teacher training at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which took over administration of the national program from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

“That’s really what we invest in: professional development, strategic planning,” says Malissa Shriver, the executive director of Turnaround Arts California, which supports the arts in 16 schools around the state, three of them in the Bay Area.

Turnaround also gets companies like art supply maker Crayola and organizations like the National Association of Music Merchants to donate arts materials and musical instruments. But Shriver says many schools are most in need of the teaching skills to offer a sophisticated arts curriculum.

Frank Gehry co-founded the California chapter of Turnaround Arts. “Arts education in the United States has deteriorated," he says. "It’s almost non-existent in the public schools, and that’s where it’s needed.”
Frank Gehry co-founded the California chapter of Turnaround Arts. “Arts education in the United States has deteriorated,” he says. “It’s almost non-existent in the public schools, and that’s where it’s needed.” (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

“It’s always the first thing cut,” says Shriver. “And if you have a system, like ours, that is funded by property taxes, there is going to be an inherent inequity. The children who benefit the most ironically get the least.”

Gehry has big plans for the budding artists at at Costaño/49ers. The architect plans to turn the kids’ images into big prints. He says he wants to put them up at Facebook’s offices in Menlo Park, where the students will later visit on a field trip. “They’re going to go and see them there,” he says with a big, satisfied smile.

That’s his short-term plan. In the long term? Gehry says, “We’re hoping that they (Facebook) get more involved than just the one school.”

LA-based David Hockney doesn't have to revisit Costaño-49ers in East Palo Alto. But many of the celebrities engaged by Turnaround Arts: California become attached to the schools they've "adopted."
Los Angeles-based David Hockney doesn’t have to revisit Costaño/49ers in East Palo Alto. But many of the celebrities engaged by Turnaround Arts: California become attached to the schools they’ve ‘adopted.’ (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)
David Hockney, Frank Gehry Adopt the Arts at Two East Palo Alto Schools 1 December,2017Rachael Myrow

Author

Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED’s Silicon Valley Arts Reporter, covering arts, culture and technology in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She regularly files stories for NPR and the KQED podcast Bay Curious, and guest hosts KQED’s Forum.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
Follow @rachaelmyrow

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