A High School in LA is using creativity and street art to transform their environment and themselves.

One version of the story of South Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High is that it’s a failing school, a dropout factory. But, thanks to the 101-year-old school’s innovative art department, another tale is swiftly emerging—a narrative that has students tapping into their creative energies and using street art to express their social and political voices. In the past three years, the campus has become home to museum quality work by dozens of street artists—everyone from international stars like Belgium’s Roa, to locals like the Yo Collective, designers of this pyramid, to the students themselves. Art teacher Mark Ayala takes us on a visual journey.
The school’s 3,400 students can’t take art until their sophomore year. Because most have never had an art class before, Ayala says it’s a mistake to start them off with an analysis of traditional fine art. “They’re not going to get Monet’s “Haystacks” right off the bat, but you can take interesting street art and graffiti and create a bridge into fine art.” This outdoor piece by Los Angeles-based artist Kofie One challenges what graffiti is and verges into fine art territory because it’s not letter based. Kofie One did it specifically in the school colors and it has become a popular spot for students to take pictures.
The culture of graffiti tagging crews mirrors gang culture. But when world renowned artists come to the campus and work on murals and projects with each other, they provide a different example. “The kids get to see the unity and collaboration between the artists,” says Ayala. “It provides them with a different model of what’s possible.” Thirteen students collaborated with street artist Ewsoeism to create this mural about the housing crisis.
The process of creating the art at the school has erased the hierarchy between professional artists and students. When artists come to Manual Arts, they’re eager to sign sketchbooks and share some of their techniques with the kids. The students also often get to work alongside the artists, creating a dialogue that’s never existed at the school before.

Social studies teacher Patricia Hanson appreciates the way the murals’ social messages have contributed to a more positive culture at the school. “Before there used to be tagging everywhere on the walls,” she says, “but now there’s almost none.” Ayala agrees that the reduction in gang affiliated slogans has meant less student conflict. “When kids see the tagging, they start flashing gang signs. But with the art, they respect the walls and each other.”

Ayala, a working artist himself, is reluctant to share the names of all the artists who have done work at Manual Arts. He’s been subpoenaed by law enforcement officials looking to identify (and prosecute) street artists. “What the artists do off campus, that’s on them,” he says. “But I let the students be aware of the risks involved in creating public art.”
This stairwell is the heart of what Ayala calls the “political” spectrum of the school’s collection. A suited pig with dripping bags of money might seem controversial, but, Ayala notes, modern students see over 300 advertisements a day—but they have no voice in the public space to express what is happening in the world.
This tree by the artist Rabi is the heart of the what Ayala calls the “spiritual” hallway. The iPod-style silhouettes at its base are by Ayala’s partner teacher, John Latsko, who has taught at Manual Arts for 14 years. His multi-colored shadow figures in the stairwells were the first art to appear on the school’s walls. But, as always, the building’s eye-in-the-sky surveillance is watching students.
The museum quality art at Manual Arts is attracting attention from outsiders. Ayala and the rest of the art teachers are frequently asked to serve as docents for visitors eager to see the work of some of the more famous street artists and the students.
The art has caused some controversy with other teachers. “Anything done with aerosol is bastardized as not creative. Teachers often only want to see art that represents the school, like the school mascot painted on a wall. Students don’t always connect with that.”
Pedro Chinchilla, 16, is a junior at Manual Arts. He’s worked on three small murals on campus but his true love is stencils. “I was home chilling but I hate video games and watching TV,” he says. “I need something to do, so I do the stencils.” He started off stenciling faces but has since expanded his repertoire. He’s motivated to keep stenciling because the more he does it, “the more fame I get.”

Chinchilla says that since he started taking art, he’s more motivated to get his grades up to A’s and B’s in his other classes. Even though Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston are both alumni of Manual Arts, some of his teachers, as well as his parents, don’t encourage his artistic endeavors. They tell him he might not make it as an artist or earn much money. “I don’t care what I earn,” he says. “If I live in a cardboard box, I want to do my art.”
The vibrancy of the school’s art is also popping up in the surrounding community. Street artists that used to only work in gentrified areas are increasingly creating murals throughout South-Central. “Just as if you put art in the school, it changes the climate of the school, the art is changing the community,” says Ayala.
Art comes in all forms at the school but the teachers do set limits on depictions of violence and art with weapons. The goal is to create a positive, safe space that both questions the world and celebrates its beauty. Ayala also likes to see a variety of work integrated together: photos of the students, plus student art, plus the work of the street artists.
Promoting gender equality by getting teen girls involved in the male-dominated street art scene, and exposing the school’s boys to talented female artists, is a top priority for Ayala and his colleagues. “It’s important for them to see positive images of women,” he says, like this blue girl by illustrator Loraine Villareal.

These sharks by the aptly named Shark Toof are wildly popular with students. Ayala says artists like Shark Toof—who has a book and sells his prints—also provide an entrepreneurial example for the kids.
The art teachers spend a considerable amount of time maintaining the artwork. Everyday during his conference period, Ayala paints out graffiti and picks up trash. “If you’re not willing to maintain the art, it will quickly disappear, he says.

Through watching the artists work, and creating their own art, the students get to experience a process over product framework, something that’s not always emphasized in our educational system. Ayala acknowledges that not having to worry about standardized test scores gives him a freedom his other colleagues don’t have. But that doesn’t mean real learning isn’t taking place. On the day of our visit, students have a writing assignment they must complete in the style of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s biography.
Ayala grew up in the Los Angeles area but didn’t start teaching until he returned from living in Brooklyn. He first taught at an art academy in Pasadena. “The kids were wonderful there,” he says, “but the greater need is here in the inner city with children of color.’ Now in his fourth year at Manual Arts he knows this to be true: “Kids just want to be heard. They just want a voice, some way to express who they are and what’s going on in their lives. The art that they’re doing here—it’s really the last free speech.”


I have been invited to give a 15 min talk before the first opening of Banksy’s Exit through the gift shop next Friday as part of the Design Indaba Film Festival
I have mixed feeling about the film so im not to sure what I will speak about just yet,.

Taken off the Design Indaba Website:

“The Oscar-nominated documentary directed by Banksy tells the story of a man’s obsession with street art. The film charts his constant documentation of his every waking moment on film, from his cousin, the artist Invader, to a host of street artists, especially Shepard Fairey and Banksy. “Subversive, provocative and unexpected, Exit Through the Gift Shop delights in taking you by surprise, starting quietly but ending up in a hall of mirrors as unsettling as anything Lewis Carroll’s Alice ever experienced,” wrote the LA Times.

On Friday 18 February at 20:30, to introduce the film will be Ricky Lee Gordon aka Freddy Sam – artist, curator and founder of /A WORD OF ART gallery and project space, and Write on Africa community art and inspiration project.”


TIKA’s work is a reflection on today’s global society, as well as the forgotten traditions and sagas of the past. TIKAhas visited many places around the world, not just to travel but to get to know the local people and learn about their current situation along with what histories and traditions they grew up with.

Born in Switzerland, TIKA grew up in Cairo, Brussels, Cologne, and Zurich, where she currently lives when not diving her time between Berlin and Rio de Janeiro. The name TIKA originally came from antibiotika, the German word for antibiotics. It’s also hindi-slang for ‘tilaka’, the different blessing-signs that Hindus wear as a symbol of power to protect the third eye. When you’re asked, “How are you?” in Hindi, you reply “TIKA!” to say that you’re fine. She studied at ZHDK but, as the artist explains, “it was learning about the D.I.Y. and cultural squat scene, reading a lot, living in a different places in the world, and painting on the streets that got me where I am today.”

“What occupies my mind most is the diversity of points of views on life,” says TIKA. “Like the development of cities, how this affects spaces for self-determined living and projects. How buildings full of history get ripped down to be replaced by glass cubes. The effects globalization has on regional and traditional habits and architecture. Love, vanity and loss of people. How long and short at the same time a life can be and the before and after of it. I like to read about sagas and myth, about the written down and told to be true history and the actual circumstances in politics, economy and environment.

What inspires me is everyday life. Random people on the streets, how they dress and talk and, if I get to talk to them, what and how they think. Of course, in the days of Internet I pick up a lot of information and inspiration through there, as well. Still, I try to read and see and think as often as possible without a computer between. When I create, it’s like all experiences and thoughts run through me and out again. The feeling of creating while I paint, draw, write or cook is similar: I forget time while I’m at it.”

TIKA has left traces on the streets of Zürich, Bern, Basel, St. Gallen, Glarus, Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, Munich, Cologne, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Salvador da Bahia, Belo Horizonte, New York, L.A., San Francisco, Paris, Praha, Biarritz, Marseille, Barcelona, Madrid, Milano, London, Vienna, Sofia, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Mexico D.F., Gvernavaca, and Puerto Escondido. She has put on solo exhibitions in Amsterdam, Vienna, Berlin, and Rio de Janiero, and participated in various group shows around the world, including New York, L.A., Sofia, Mexico D.F., Milano, and Madrid.

TIKA is currently participating in a three month residency in Cape Town through Pro Helvetia, /A WORD OF ART, One k, and the Woodstock Industrial Centre.

“I’m learning a lot about South African history and current effects of Apartheid,” she says. “I will take these imputs and let them go as the view of someone who is not grown up here into my solo show ‘KAPTIKA’ (a mix of the German word KAPSTADT and TIKA). All of the work included will be made during


Faith47 is a self-taught artist who draws inspiration from her own intuitive political and existential questions. Her art takes on the form of metaphor. Both abstract and definitive in meaning, plucking at our heartstrings as she paints.

Faiths images thrive on broken-down cars and old factories, down dusty side roads of lost towns and inner-city alleyways. Her deep affinity with lost spaces allows her to gracefully bring attention to the most honest and humble of environments. Her interactions resonate with our fragility and our elusive relationship with dreams, memory, human interaction and urban decay. We hear in her work harmonious and sometimes dark tones echoing emotion and heartfelt intent.

Initially recognized for her unique graffiti and street art work, faith is fast establishing herself internationally, showing in galleries and participating in projects world wide. Switzerland, Sweden, Senegal, America, Brasil, Britain, China, Holland, Germany, Britain, Kenya, Canada, Belgium and Spain have all hosted her in the past few years. Despite this she remains rooted in South Africa, where the soil is red and her blood feels comfortably and peacefully on edge.


Over the past 3 days TIKA (Berlin/Switzerland/ Rio) who is here on the new /A WORD OF ARTWIC RESIDENCY
has been hard at work at a large scale mural in the heart of Cape Town.
Heres some progress shots from the talented Jonx Pillemer.We will post the final wall in the next days,,
Thanks to African Access for the crane,,,were exited to now finally have big walls and a crane to play with,,,so expect more bog walls in our city!
See the artists in residency blogs.
View full selection of photos here: