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Create a City or Playground

location_on Los Angeles, United States

Since 1996, Create Now has provided visual arts programming for thousands of students, including STEAM classes that use recycled materials.

Students at one of our schools are bi-lingual English/Spanish. Academic test scores were far below the state average. Classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, murals and our STEAM workshop “Create a Playground” increased math scores by 20%. These programs helped prepare students for middle school. Most importantly, the children came away with new methods to express their ideas through visual arts.


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Target group
January 28th, 2021
Create Now is an outstanding arts education provider. The programs we received brought our students a wealth of experiences and skills.
James Lee, School Principal, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

About the innovation

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Introduction to Visual Arts

What we do?

Create Now empowers young people ages 3 to 24 through arts education and mentoring. We have reached 49,000 at-risk and high-risk youth in 24 years, especially kids challenged by poverty, abuse, neglect, homelessness and incarceration. We produce workshops in music, visual arts, writing, performance, digital media, fashion and culinary arts. Every year, Create Now brings thousands of youth to concerts, plays, museums and other Cultural Journeys. We also produce community Power of the Arts Festivals and mural projects.

Since 1996, we have implemented visual arts courses for thousands of youth where students create collages, draw, paint and make 3D sculptures. During the past three years, Create Now has provided a continuum of visual arts programming at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, CA to all K-5 students (except third graders) who are mostly bilingual (Spanish/English) and bi-literate.

While Create Now provides visual arts classes at many schools, the focus of this Innovation is with our partner Camino Nuevo Charter Academy – Jose Castellanos Campus near the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles (just west of DTLA), which is home to mostly Central American immigrants.

The students at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy are far behind their peers in Math. They rank 27% compared to the State rate of 40%. However, the fourth and fifth grade students who participated in our Create a Mural and Create a Playground programs increased their math scores by 20%.

Our arts classes meet for ten sessions per semester and help prepare youth for middle school. All of our arts classes culminate with a “Gallery Show” for parents, teachers and peers, plus a celebratory party that includes lasting souvenirs, like unique Certificates of Completion.

Kindergarten students are introduced to the painting process and materials, such as paints, pencils, and paper to create lines, forms, and patterns they observe in the environment and in demonstrated works of art. They improve motor skills as they enjoy utilizing these new tools, and acquire the vocabulary to compare what they see in nature and what they have created on paper.

First grade students learn drawing and expand their understanding of patterns in nature, the environment, and in works of art, emphasizing line, shape, and form. They’re introduced to simple techniques to draw a face as they discover portraits. Children create self-portraits and full body stencils to gain self-awareness. They have fun with pop-art expressions similar to the work of Keith Herring.

Second grade students dive into the world of 3D expression. They use clay, paper, wood and paper mache to express the relationship to form in space. Motor skills are further reinforced as the children use sticks and yarn to create cultural artwork, like "Ojos de Dios," paper to design 3D flowers, and clay to mold animals.

Fourth grade students brainstorm to come up with a theme. They collaborate to draw and transfer the design, mix colors and scale up to Create a Mural. Youth can paint directly on walls or special canvas that is glued to surfaces, or select panels to make their murals large or small, permanent, temporary or portable, so they can proudly enjoy their work on display. Students learn to divide their mural panels into fractions, enhancing math skills, while exploring the wonder of colors, similar to the loosely-gridded multi-color works of African American artist Stanley Whitney.

Fifth grade students learn how to Create a Playground. This STEAM program reinforces children’s math skills. They first measure sections of their school yard and then scale down to models, using fractions and decimals in the process. Children collect recycled materials from home, like paper-towel rolls, cardboard boxes, and plastic bottles to create their “dream” schoolyards. This teaches the importance of recycling and protecting our environment.

Some students integrate the techniques of artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to stylize the walls and surfaces of their playgrounds. The schoolyards have featured fountains, bridges, gardens, skate parks, and numerous ball fields. The fourth grade students are invited to the “Gallery Show” (along with parents and teachers), so they can anticipate what they will be learning in the fifth grade.

Create a Playground targets students in grades 2-5, while Create a City reaches students in grades 6-12. Youth learn about teamwork and how to collaborate while discovering ways the arts intersect with the challenges that society faces. This program exposes young people to higher education and careers in architecture, urban planning, engineering, science, technology, alternative energy, building sustainable water systems, civic engagement, and of course, the visual arts.

Why we do it?

While Los Angeles is one of the wealthiest and most glamorous cities in the world, 27.8% of LA County’s children live in poverty, the highest rate in the United States. 33% of the students in our inner-city schools dropout, and dropouts have lower earnings and higher incarceration rates than their better educated peers. Many at-risk youth are far behind other youngsters academically, but they can excel in the arts, which motivates them to stay in school. In addition, extensive research proves that the arts have a therapeutic impact and improve cognition, social interaction and anxiety, while building confidence and self-esteem.

Otis College reported in 2018 that the Los Angeles creative economy generated 865,000 jobs and those wage and salary workers earned $77.9 billion in labor income. We need to give at-risk and high-risk youth the chance to benefit from these opportunities, and to have their voices heard.

Los Angeles has more foster children and homeless youth than anywhere else in the nation. 63,000 students in LAUSD schools were homeless during 2016. The DCFS reports there are 30,000 children in foster care. An average foster youth has 5-10 placements before they emancipate out of the system. The majority become homeless or incarcerated when they turn 18, with no family support or resources. The 2018 report shows 6,000 homeless 18-24 year-olds, which is a 24% increase. California has more than double the national average of incarcerated youth. 11,532 kids are locked up each year, at an annual cost of $232,000 per youth.

Create Now's school-based programs reach low-income students, often with a single mother raising a number of children. Sometimes, older youth must take care of their younger siblings while their parent works. Through Create Now's in-school and after-school classes, many of these kids can participate in arts activities along with their siblings, which enable them to bond while giving their parents a break.

It’s evident that tens of thousands of young people in the Greater Los Angeles area need help. Create Now taps into the resources in our community to connect artists and opportunities with the neediest kids to make a difference.

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