The Art of Speaking Out

By: Judy Cantor-Navas

Self Help Graphics and Art, located in the uber-Latino neighborhood of Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, was founded in 1970 with the mandate to start an artistic revolution. The neighborhood center is famous for creating a community Day of the Dead celebration 40 years ago that became a model for the fiestas that now exist across the U.S., and it was a breeding ground for the 1980s Chicano punk rock scene.
Today, Self Help Graphics still pulsates with Latino power, and it’s a place where anyone can artistically exercise the right to freedom of expression. Why wear that tired Che t-shirt when can create one symbolizing your personal rebellion? At the art center’s monthly screen printing workshops, resident artist and Boyle Heights native Dewey Tafoya teaches groups of diverse students how to transfer their own message and images onto posters and t-shirts.

Self-Help also offers classes in making ceramic tiles suitable for public murals (or household projects). Talleres in the art of aerosol painting – offered free for students ages 12-18 – promote the creative and responsible use of spray cans and explore “The use of space from a squared canvas to irregular shapes such as found street objects.” (What students may choose to do with those particular skills is, of course, up to them.)
In addition to continuing the tradition of graphic arts that is an important part of U.S. Latino history, the workshops at Self-Help graphics are a reminder that the best kind of social networking happens in a room full of strangers.

Judy Cantor-Navas is an award-winning journalist, critic and Latin music programmer who most frequently writes about music and its context. She is the Managing Editor of Billboard en Español and a correspondent for Billboard Magazine in Los Angeles.