Art Division: The Dedication of Dan McCleary

Art Division show from recent past
Image courtesy of Art Division

Art Division: The Dedication of Dan McCleary

Written by Genie Davis
Founded by artist and teacher Dan McCleary in 2010, Art Division serves young adults ages 18 to 26, and is a hyper-local organization, focused on assisting underserved and at-risk students in the MacArthur Park area. That’s both the location of the organization and McCleary’s long-term residence in Los Angeles for over thirty years.

The organization is an educational and artistic beacon, a non-profit arts program that includes a 10,000-book library, and both painting and printmaking studios, which can also be used as an exhibition space. McCleary hosts at least two major shows each year.

McCleary’s dedication to providing an educational program started earlier than his organization’s founding: he was previously Director of Art Programs and an instructor at Heart of Los Angeles, a program that served kids ages 6 to 18. He felt there was a severe dearth of programs for art makers in the next age group up, and sought to offer a diverse series of offerings to rectify that in his home area. Classes offered by the program include figure drawing, painting, public speaking, career planning, creative writing, mural making, and art history. Students can not only make art here, they hold exhibitions.

According to McCleary, “There are very few services for young adults…once you hit 18, you’re on your own and I was finding that a lot of kids just ended up lost. So, this provides them a path.”

From the fundamentals of printmaking to line drawing, the organization offers an encompassing arts program. And their pay-it-forward aesthetic has led to a partnership with Para Los Niños Gratts Primary Center, a charter school serving students in kindergarten and first grade that lacked both an art program and art classroom. Art Division created a classroom out of an existing outdoor space, and to-date, ten Art Division students have taught at Gratts.

Art Division Teaching younger students
Image courtesy of Art Division

Learn, Do, Teach is Art Division’s innovative program that first trains Art Division students in printmaking and then brings them into a community setting to lead a workshop for children. The program is based on Art Division’s on-going printmaking class and provides advanced students the opportunity to share their expertise. An upcoming project is to include a portable press, so printing workshops can be brought to just about any location.

Art Division has also partnered with Alexandria House to teach different art disciplines covering a wide range of creative, artistic practices; and the organization ​partners with Skylight Theatre to prepare over 300 sack lunches and distribute them to the hungry in the MacArthur Park area. And, the organization has piloted an outreach program at St. Anne’s family facility providing art classes to a space that focuses on healthy family dynamics from pregnancy through childhood to adulthood.

Such community activism and devotion to art is almost second nature for McCleary, whose contemporary figurative work was recently shown at USC Fisher Museum of Art and at Craig Krull. Along with portraits, he paints simple yet jewel-perfect still-life work. The artist founded Art Division along with Maria Galicia, Javier Carrillo, and Emmanuel Galvez; they gained their non-profit status in 2011.

Art Division’s Library was the start of the program, with McCleary honoring his mother’s passing in 2004 by seeking donations of art books rather than flowers or other contributions. Artist Chris Burden donated his late mother’s vast art book collection to the cause. As word spread that McCleary was collecting, more donations poured in from friends and artists. Today, he calls the massive collection a “high-end Master’s program for inner-city young adults.”

Along with access to the library, the classes Art Division offers are free, including materials. Current courses include Printmaking, taught by Javier Carrillo, which includes rubber block, wood block, and etchings. Drawing, taught by Luis Serrano focuses on techniques, materials, and approaches necessary for practicing drawing from observation. As an adjunct, a Figure Drawing workshop is also offered by Serrano. Mural Painting, taught by artist Luis Mateo, has a class goal to recreate a ​​ mural by Mexican artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, painted at the Chouinard Art School in 1932, and titled “Street Meeting.” It was washed out after completion; based on photographs, the class is to recreate it on a smaller scale. Telling Stories: Intro to Film Arts from instructor Tomas Gomez Bustillo, is an introductory workshop that lets students learn the basics of filmmaking, with a project created for a community screening.

Art Division inclusively offers 12 week classes that have covered many different art-related subjects. Students are also taken to explore the city’s art museums.

“We take a good look at the actual books and go see the art,” McCleary asserts. Whether taking a class or not, anyone can visit Art Division and open one of the thousands of books. “We’re open six days a week, from 11 a.m. until 8 or 9 o’clock at night,” McCleary states. He also stresses that the facility is a safe and welcoming place for students to do homework.

With Art Division, McCleary’s previously self-described “very hermetic” life as an artist has changed. He was inspired by trips to Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca, in Oaxaca, and that organization’s ideals. Today, the space continues to inspire more and more neighborhood residents.

Just as the number of people Art Division serves continues to grow, so does the library. He relates “Every week or two we get a call from someone…it’s [the collection] becoming incredibly sophisticated.”

A reception for Art Division students’ latest show is set for September 28th at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. Memories of Diaspora: Narratives of Los Angeles celebrates the 10th anniversary theme of the Beach House, “Shared Memory.” The exhibition features work from first-generation Angeleno students, as well as work by members of the Art Division faculty, and artists from Oaxaca, Mexico. The focus is on the struggles, hopes, and dreams of the immigrant experience, including memories of crossing the border to the north. Featured artists include Javier Carrillo, Emmanuel Galvéz, Katherine Garcia, Alex “Otiswoods” Gonzalez, Hiroko Hata, Stephanie Hernandez, Sade Jones, Dr. Lakra, Peter Liashkov, Sandra Maldonado, Luis Mateo, Alicia Lopez Mendoza, Fernando Olivera, Roberto Ortíz, Guillermo Perez, Daniela Ram, Diego Rodarte, Artemio Rodriguez, Jeremy Saborio, Rebecca Souvannarath, Federico Valdez, and Yescka.

Earlier this year, in May, at the Art Division Gallery on Rampart Street, Art Division student Alex “OTISWOODS” Gonzalez held his first solo exhibition Debajo lo Mas Bajo (Below, The Lowest).

Memories of Diaspora: Narratives of Los Angeles
Annenberg Community Beach House
415 Pacific Coast Hwy at Beach House Way Santa Monica, CA 90402
Exhibition dates: September 7, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Reception: Saturday September 28, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

The Art Division library is located at 2418 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90057. For more information visit their website.

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