Veronica Alvarez, Ed.D., began her tenure last week as CalArts’ new director of the Community Arts Partnership Program, or CAP, which offers free after-school and school-based arts programs for youth ages 4-18.
With a background in the classics, teaching, community building, arts education and curriculum development (she most recently served as LACMA’s director of School and Teacher Programs), Alvarez is excited to bring CalArts’ pedagogy further into the greater Los Angeles area — and beyond.
As a formerly undocumented immigrant from Cotija (Michoacán), Mexico, Alvarez brings a personal perspective that complements her academic career, which includes a BA (Liberal Arts) and MA (Ancient History) from Cal State Northridge and a doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice from Loyola Marymount University.
It was at Northridge that Alvarez took a History of Mexico class with renowned educator and diplomat Julian Nava, Ph.D. The class changed her life: As opposed to other lectures that emphasized the memorization of key dates and milestones, Nava instead “told stories” to teach history and get his points across.
Storytelling remains a key aspect of her work to reach children through art. At LACMA, she oversaw a mobile classroom (aka the “Maya Mobile”); a 48-foot truck outfitted as an archeological site to teach children about the Maya, Aztec and Inka (Inca) cultures. The Maya Mobile would bring original artifacts directly to the schools, which students could then handle (with kid gloves, naturally).
“You’re using primary resources to teach and tell stories about these cultures. That was so awesome.”
Making art accessible to all students is a personal mission of hers. While writing her doctoral dissertation, “Art Museums and Latino English Learners: Teaching Artists in the K-8 Classroom,” Alvarez’s research showed that students of color benefit from arts education the most, but often their access is also the most limited.
“It’s a social justice issue,” she said. “The arts are so underfunded and are seen as a nonessential part of education.”
“Humans need to create,” she added. “When you create, you say so much about you, your culture, and about the time you are living.”
— By Christine N. Ziemba