By Kristin Agostoni, Assistant Director, Public and Media Relations at Loyola Marymount University

A mural at Loyola Marymount University features drawings by John Alving and Amber Cromwell (photo by Jose Aguila for Loyola Marymount University)

A mural at Loyola Marymount University features drawings by John Alving and Amber Cromwell (photo by Jose Aguila for Loyola Marymount University)

The children visiting Loyola Marymount University (LMU) last spring excitedly crowded around art tables to craft hundreds of “feathers” out of white sheets of paper. Nearby, their college-aged mentors were hard at work hanging the whimsical creations inside LMU’s Thomas P. Kelly, Jr. Student Art Gallery.

The piece – a mural of wings designed by guest artist and LMU alumna Amber Cromwell – served as a symbol of a successful partnership more than 10 years in the making. Called ARTsmart, the innovative program has allowed LMU students to develop an art curriculum and teach young students at an under-resourced K-8 Los Angeles magnet school.

“One of the benefits that LMU students bring to the school is not only their expertise, but their energy,” said ARTsmart Director Terry Lenihan, professor of studio arts in the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts.

“There’s a real benefit to LMU: to have our students giving back to the community in a way that’s really positive,” added Lenihan, who focuses her research on K–12 and post-secondary art education, service learning, collaborative art and social justice arts education.

LMU’s ARTsmart partner is Westside Global Awareness School, a Los Angeles Unified magnet school in Marina del Rey with a focus on science, particularly environment and ecosystems. The school draws its roughly 400 students from across Los Angeles; state data show that about 80% of students enrolled are from economically disadvantaged families.

ARTsmart moved in Fall 2008 to what was then Westside Leadership Magnet, later renamed Westside Global Awareness. Since then, the program has made an impact on its young students, by providing a thoughtfully developed standards-based arts education, as well as ongoing mentoring services and support.

“I know that the student body as a whole looks forward to coming here, and the teachers do as well,” said Principal Cyril Baird, as his students and faculty members joined a celebration on LMU’s Westchester campus with ARTsmart instructors, campus leaders and Lenihan last spring. “Art is something that is sorely lacking. [Lenihan] has been our connection to that.”

A sculptor and installation artist, Lenihan is an advocate for arts education, who has served on the California Arts Council and the Arts Education Task Force, created by former state schools chief, Tom Torlakson. As director of ARTsmart, Lenihan oversees a program with a dual mission: ARTsmart offers underserved schoolchildren an education in the arts that provides the instrumental and intrinsic benefits necessary to becoming well-rounded, productive members of society.

There are growth opportunities for LMU students as well. LMU’s ARTsmart student volunteers, known as artist-mentors, are undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines. Through their teaching experience in the classroom, these students gain leadership and collaborative skills, self-confidence and an understanding of social justice.

“ARTsmart is just one of the many community outreach and service programs offered through the College of Communication and Fine Arts. It has critical and reciprocal benefits for both the young people we serve at Westside Global Awareness and for the LMU students who participate,” said LMU CFA Dean Bryant Keith Alexander.

“Each of these groups are enriched by the relationship between art, critical thinking and creative expression; skills that translate to and through all disciplines,” he added. “Our partnership with Westside Global Awareness is a realization of our University mission at work: the encouragement of learning, the education of the whole person, and the service of faith and the promotion of justice.”

LMU students involved in the program design weekly lessons around their topics of expertise, such as animation, engineering and printmaking. Their majors run the gamut from studio arts to business, graphic design to psychology, and art history to communication studies.

Oceanna Hain is an art education student who visited Westside Global Awareness for two hours, once a week, during the 2018-19 academic year. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with children before student teaching. She said, “I grew up loving my art classes. Knowing how important it is to me, I want to be able to give that opportunity to kids.”

“I’ve always wanted to do something artistic with my life,” said Westside Global Awareness seventh-grader Natalia Murillo, 12, as she and friends explored the LMU student art gallery during the campus celebration last spring. “I think ARTsmart definitely opens up my mind to the idea.”

Westside Global Awareness and ARTsmart students will gather again at Loyola Marymount next month for the annual art event. Click here to learn more about LMU’s ARTsmart program.