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Artists Are Teaching Free Online Classes to Kids in Both English and Spanish

The 18th Street Arts Center is launching a mini-semester’s worth of virtual art school for children, from toddlers to teenagers.

Video still by Rodri y Lenny, Roll Over Beethoven (2018)

LOS ANGELES — At the moment, life is at least a little more challenging than usual for all of us. Among people’s many hurdles is having to school their children from home (while also trying to do their own work and, you know, cook three meals a day). The COVID-19 pandemic has brought even more streams of entertainment and online classes for adults, but perhaps more urgent are resources for children — for their sake and their parents’.

The 18th Street Arts Center is about to launch a mini-semester’s worth of virtual art school for children, from toddlers to teenagers. The Arts Learning Lab @ Home series will launch Wednesday, April 15 on Zoom and continue through the end of the school year in June. A different artist will be teaching two classes each week, held on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11am. What makes these workshops extra special is that they will be taught in both English and Spanish, and for those instructors who aren’t bilingual, a live interpreter will be joining the class to help.

Sue Bell Yank, the deputy director at 18th Street Arts Center, explained over the phone that the Learning Lab came to be after the center’s annual Pico Block Party was canceled (like so many things lately). The popular community festival is also typically bilingual and family-oriented, so when brainstorming what to do instead, they wanted to devise “a program that aligned with those goals.”

Claudia Concha (image courtesy the artist and 18th Street Arts Center)

Another priority, Yank said, was to “create a virtual community feel” by hosting live classes and giving students the option to see each other during the workshop. Yank, who has children herself, explained that the classes that tend to stick out are the ones where kids can see each other participating through video. That said, people have the choice to not activate the video function.

The first two workshops will be led by 18th Street artist-in-residence Claudia Concha, during which participants will reflect on the lifecycle of a caterpillar and its “connection to our lives now.” On Wednesday, students will be tasked with imagining what it’s like to be inside a cocoon, and on Friday, they’ll “visualize themselves as a butterfly.” While I know this is technically for families with children, this sounds like a soothing form of meditation for anyone.

Percussionist Shirazette Tinnin, demonstrating her Better Than a Spoon Workshop! from her kitchen in New York City. (image courtesy the artist and 18th Street Arts Center)

While many of the instructors are 18th Street artist-in-residents, other artists were also invited to teach, including the New York City-based jazz musician Shirazette Tinnin. In her workshop in early May, she’ll guide students on how to make their own drum sets from an oatmeal container, grits container, two long spoons, and three glasses. Note that all classes include a list of required materials to gather ahead of time (a very helpful feature — last week I was caught-off guard when my workout instructor suddenly asked us to grab a can of beans as a substitute for weights).

You can preview upcoming programming online, which includes an online film festival focused on Los Angeles and Latin America and a conversation on art and activism. If interested, plan to sign up for classes in advance. Though if you can’t make the specified time, don’t worry — all classes will be posted as free, on-demand videos.

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