Finding Arts Education On Your Own

Juana Esquivel, Journalism Intern with Arts for LA




Juana Esquivel, Arts for LA's Communications Intern, offers her perspective on how to make the most of limited arts education resources in a poverty-stricken public school.



Five different colored pieces of string wrapped up in a knot hung from a cut out line at the top of the cardboard square. Each string was tucked into five cut out slacks one-inch apart at the bottom of the square. I took the far left piece and made a “4” shape along with the string to its right. Then, I grabbed the lower end of the first piece and tucked it under the second piece. Lastly, I pulled it upwards until the first piece reached the top slack.  

I completed the same task with the rest of the three remaining strings and then moved each string to the slack on the left and began another cycle. I did so until I ran out of string in which case I already had a new bracelet. 

This was part of my only exposure to arts art class I took as an elective in the 8th grade at Mount Vernon Middle School (now renamed to Johnnie Cochran Jr. Middle School). 

Growing up, I had little to no arts education. There was the occasional “arts and crafts time” in elementary school and art class electives in middle school. High school was slightly different. Students had more artistic electives and extra curricular activities to choose from such as band, choir, and the drama club.    

However, throughout my public school education (not including college), there was no specific arts program every student had to partake in. 

Needless to say that I attended poverty-stricken public schools with limited resources in which more money was spent in building what seemed like 50 foot fences along the perimeter of the school, and in gun and metal detectors, than in arts programs.  

In high school, I gained my education surrounded by drive-by shootings and school lockdowns. 

During my senior year, I took a couple of art classes. A piano class and an art history class. which I had to take because I was required to take Advance Placement (AP) classes and that class was one of the few, other than AP math and english, offered. 

Art history was more lecture than hands-on as I see most art classes to be. 

The piano class was more of a free class period as the teacher was also the choir director and spent more time in her built-in office inside the classroom than teaching piano.

While being an AP student felt special and having a free class period in which I was supposed to be brushing up on my keyboard playing skills I learned when I was 10 at a local piano shop felt good, I always longed for an interactive elective. 

I missed painting and making things out of construction paper.

But, I enjoyed writing. I always have. Since I can remember.

Taking challenging honors and AP courses allowed me to write, a lot and often. I absorbed myself in the creative writing and analytical essays, in the short stories and in the poems that I had to write. 

Now, I wouldn’t say I was not exposed to the arts. I just had to dig a little deeper.

Luckily, I was raised in the highly diverse city that Los Angeles is where there are countless artistic opportunities to be experienced such as art-based museums, art walks and cultural community events. and took what I could from the arts electives I took in middle and high school as did my peers with the same or sometimes less limited resources that I had.  

During my junior and senior years at Susan Miller Dorsey High School, Dorsey’s choir was able to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the band appeared in the Rose Parade in Pasadena a couple of times. 

So even if you have limited resources like I did, I encourage you to encourage your children to take advantage of the ones they do have. Not only will you show your support for arts education, but a little exposure can go along way and because of the struggle you had to go through to obtain arts education, it will mean twice as much and make twice as much of a difference.

That difference is being able to have a deeper appreciation for the arts.

For those of us who did not grow up with an arts program in our schools, being able to do something artistic in school was a luxury.

It is not everyday we get to audition and rehearse for the school play or have our painting displayed in the school art gallery.

That difference is also beating the odds and excelling in something we weren’t expected to because we did not have the access to it.

In the end, I like to think that I didn’t turn out so bad. I simply did not have an arts-emphasized curriculum in the schools I attended.

My arts experiences not only gave me a deeper appreciation for the arts, but they also helped me realize that there were other ways to express myself and other activities to get involved in than the ones offered in the streets after school. These artistic experiences exposed me to the art world that I was not aware of.

In college, I found a way to let out my inner artistic self. I followed my passion for writing, added my interest for news and current events and in the end, I became a journalist. 



Juana Esquivel is Arts for LA's fall Communications Intern.  She recently received her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish-language journalism from California State University, Northridge. In 2010, Juana worked as news editor and staff reporter for CSUN's campus newspaper, the Daily Sundial. As a staff reporter, she gained firsthand experience on the issues that matter and affect students the most. Juana covered some of the Spring 2010 semester’s top stories including changes to financial aid, Haiti relief efforts, and historic statewide marches against budget cuts. Also, in working with her campus' Spanish newspaper, El Nuevo Sol, Juana has over two years of experience in working with Spanish-language journalism and covering issues that affect the local Latino community. She has also worked for her campus’ radio station KCSN, in the KCSN Evening Update.