Blog Feature

By: Scott Cline on April 27th, 2017

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2 art college graduates that push the limits of their art and society

Alumni | For Undergraduates | Making A Difference

“In essence, a song or a drawing can be the strongest weapon against oppression, marginalization, and other issues that affect different communities,” according to art college graduate Frederick Alvarado, who archives his interdisciplinary artwork on a site named “Home Turf: Secret Weapons.

Why the seemingly weaponized imagery from an artist who says he’s always on the lookout for “possible points of interconnectedness”?

Because, for Alvarado, art can function as a lens, revealing “actions taken against injustices on the earth.”

Alvarado is a dual-degree art college alumnus. He earned an undergraduate degree at the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MFA in social practice from California College of the Arts.

Looking back on his education in a recent alumni spotlight article, Alvarado said:

“CCA served as a laboratory where I could build projects that were dynamic in reach and aim, like The Home Turf: A Coloring Book, an Oakland-based project that combines yoga and HIV awareness education.”

We live in a time of vast change, and for some, strife. Communities around the world are struggling to gain a foothold amidst tumultuous economic, social, and political conditions. Artists like Alvarado channel their creative energy to give voices to the voiceless, probe social problems from unique angles, and help tear down the barriers that divide us.

Like many of the nation’s top art colleges, California College of the Arts fosters a creative community of students, faculty, and alumni who push each other to grow as artists, taking on challenging new techniques and subjects and forging new connections between disciplines. More than that, though, the best art colleges encourage their students to push the conventions of society and create cultural transformation, which is why their students care about making meaningful contributions to society. CCA’s “Students come to CCA because they want to use their creative energy to make the world a better place as artists, designers, activists, and entrepreneurs,” the school tells prospective applicants. “They come here to the Bay Area to dedicate themselves to issues such as social justice, community development, sustainability, and diversity.”

Before, during, and after earning his art college degree, Alvarado has been intensely involved with art-based community outreach efforts.

He has worked on an “intergenerational comic book,” funded by the city of Oakland, that brought together area youth and senior citizens. He co-led a team from the LatinX Student Community Center at Northeastern University in Boston to create a 4,250-square-foot mural.

“Witnessing the transformation of a building and helping to create an identity-based public art piece in the middle of Boston was great,” Alvarado said.

Bridging the Gaps

Another art college graduate, Nancy Nowacek, is also pushing the limits of her art and geophysical boundaries to help build connections — in this case, literally. Nowacek, who earned an MFA in social practice from California College of the Arts, is working on a temporary, floating walking bridge between Brooklyn and Governors Island in New York City. It’s an ambitious undertaking, to say the least, but it has already secured over $25,000 from more than 500 backers.

“The project aims to reconnect New Yorkers to their waterways, reclaim the waterfront step by step, helping New Yorkers gain agency over their bodies in relation to the water, a necessity in the new reality of living in a sinking city,” Nowacek writes on her website.

Nowacek credits her instructors at California College of the Arts for helping to plant the seed of social engagement, spurring her artistic growth.

At CCA, she said, “I learned the foundations of social practice and the means to create a critically charged and theoretically rigorous practice.”

As a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in Vermont, Nowacek is now exploring social practice with a new generation of artists: “This class will engage systems thinking as a lens in making artworks that interrupt and/or reimagine our contemporary experience from personal to global scales.”

How Will You Push the Limits?

What kind of artist are you hoping to become? What difference do you want to make in the world? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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About Scott Cline

Dr. Scott Cline is vice president of enrollment at California College of the Arts, where he leads the financial aid and undergraduate admissions offices. He has worked at CCA for over six years, previously as director and associate director of financial aid.

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