Envisioning the Future Challenges Local Art Community

Envisioning the Future Challenges Local Art Community
Acclaimed artist and activist Judy Chicago and respected photographer Donald Woodman guided the Envisioning the Future project. Here, the pair watch a video during one of the project meetings.
Artist Kevin Stewart-Magee touches up the eye of the goddess Pomona as he works on a mural on the walls of Thomas Street Plaza in Pomona.

Karen Keller, a fine arts senior, plans to teach art in high school. But she knows that in order to challenge young minds to tap into their deepest selves and go beyond the ordinary, she would first have to do the same for herself.

When the San Gabriel resident learned that acclaimed artist and activist Judy Chicago and respected photographer Donald Woodman were coming to the community to guide an ambitious art project requiring as much critical thinking as it did hands-on work, Keller knew she found the perfect learning experience.

What emerged at the end of Keller?s involvement with Envisioning the Future was more than her contribution to an art installation. She also gained a wealth of experience working with and learning from some of the top artists in the world, which pushed her to new levels of accomplishment.

?This was learning that took me beyond my own pre-formed ideas,? says Keller, whose group created a mock museum, which includes an environmental critique of current waste disposal systems, featuring a live fish-tank, working toilet and sink and sculptures of mutated fish. ?There was a lot of education, a lot of research that was a stretch for me. We didn?t just look at so-and-so?s art and what they did. We thought down at the root of things. It was a whole different level.?

In collaboration with Cal Poly Pomona and the Pomona Arts Colony, Envisioning the Future was a transforming experience for its participants. Chicago and Woodman hand-picked and trained nine facilitators from the region?s art communities, who in turn worked with about 70 artists to use all forms of creative expression, individually as well as collaboratively, in an effort to explore what the future may hold. After two years in development, the project resulted in over 800 works ranging from sculpture, painting, performance art, photography and digital media, all culminating in a series of exhibits this winter.

Fine art senior Karen Keller's displays work critical of waste disposal systems, complete with a live fish-tank, working toilet and sinks, as well as sculptures of mutated fish. Her art piece is called “Personal Hygiene Unit.”
“Absolute Poverty” by Yvone Guerrero, a poster reflecting the perils of overpopulation in the future, is part of the Envisioning the Future Parallel Project by students in Art 452.

A mural of the goddess Pomona painted on the side of the Labomba store at Second Street and the plaza in the Arts Colony is now a permanent gift for the wider community to enjoy. But the temporary works remain just as memorable, and will be on display through Feb. 29 at at sites throughout the Cal Poly Pomona campus, as well as galleries in the Pomona Arts Colony and in Claremont.

The artists went through weeks of rigorous workshops and lively talks before creating anything. Experts included luminaries from throughout the international art world. Henry Hopkins, former director of UCLA?s Armand Hammer Museum, Edward Lucie-Smith, British art historian, and Gilbert ?Magu? Lujan, pioneering Chicano artist and Arts Colony resident, were among those challenging and informing the artists.

In these mandatory sessions, which included homework and were described by participants as ?intense,? the artists debated and thought about art from perspectives beyond those presented in a traditional classroom setting. Issues such as sustainability, content and environment were in the forefront, with the artists examining their roles and responsibilities in relation to each topic.

Envisioning the Future began with project coordinator Cheryl Bookout, director of the SCA Gallery in the Arts Colony. But Bookout believes the public/private partnership would never have become reality without the support of Cal Poly Pomona and the strong backing of Barbara Way, dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences.

Way says the project?s appeal was obvious, both for university students and the community.

?My primary motivation and why I got the university involved in this was to help to meet our mission of being involved in our local community in meaningful ways,? she says. ?For me, the possibility of emphasizing this region of Southern California as a center of education and art culture, I thought this was an extraordinary opportunity.?

Once work began, dozens of volunteers joined the artists and facilitators, bringing the total number involved to about 100 participants from 39 cities, Bookout says. Cal Poly Pomona professors as well as local schoolteachers also took concepts from Envisioning the Future to their classrooms to create parallel projects.

Students at Garey High School put together a companion art project at their school, as did students at the new School of Arts and Enterprise in the Arts Colony.

Cal Poly Pomona Art professor Eileen Fears? 17 art students created an elaborate installation suggesting the social and political effects of forced DNA testing. On display in an open field near the university's Engineering Building are rows of test tubes representing the genetic matter of students forced to undergo DNA testing. Over the course of the exhibit, some of the test tubes will be altered, representing their rejection due to unacceptable genetics.

Babette Mayor, chair of the Art department, had 22 students tackle five environmental threats, from overpopulation to chemical hazards, which are displayed at the campus ENV?s Glass Gallery.

For the Cal Poly Pomona students involved, the long-term benefits of working in a collaborative setting with a stunning array of international talent goes beyond simple networking.

?It?s really had an impact over and above the core project,? Bookout says. ?People tend to think about artists as being loners locked up in their studios. But there?s a lot that can be done with art to bridge communities. Being part of this has opened up worlds of ideas and possibilities for each of them,? she says.

For more information on Envisioning the Future, visit www.envisioningthefuture.org.