Artists protest: Exhibit stands up for the future of art classes

Student artwork from the exhibit, “Accreditate This!” is displayed in the corridor of the Visual Arts building on City College’s Ocean Campus. Contributing artists are: Laurie Reid, Chris Johansen, Andres Wemiz, Bonnie Nahmias, Nebulous Q. Nuyl aka Benajmin Lyon, Mike Kavanagh and Julian DeMark. Photo by Leslie Calderon/The Guardsman
By Dannie Hawkins
The Guardsman
While some students aggressively protest City College’s accreditation crisis at board meetings, others in the college community are quietly asserting themselves through a menagerie of artwork.A plea for life-long learning, Accreditate This is a sprawling mixed media exhibit that opened on Oct. 22 in the Visual Arts building on Ocean campus and closes Nov. 5.It showcases the variety of talent produced by City College students and faculty, as well as two alumni, Chris Johanson and Laurie Reid.“It seems that when cuts are being made, the arts are the first to go,” art instructor James Torlakson said. “When Hitler took over, he alienated arts first because he didn’t want innovative, creative thinkers.”

Art department Chair Anna Asebedo said that students avoid a lot of debt by attending City College rather than an art school.

The students of the visual arts department want to announce that it is thriving, helping students get in touch with their craft and assisting them in reaching their goals.

“I started here,” Chris Johanson, now an internationally known artist, said. “City College has a very professional art program. The teachers are great. I learned through osmosis.”

Some pieces were made specifically for the event, while others are a favorite from class.

The vast array of techniques of the art department are seen through a surplus of mediums including charcoal, watercolor and spray paints.

Even brown paper bags crinkled to resemble a man’s face line the hallway.

“It’s about consumption,” fine arts major Bonnie Nahmias said in reference to the sculpture she created using an everyday material.

Seven courses were cut from last semester’s offering.

“Our goals are to educate people, to be creative thinkers,” Asebedo said. “Through the years of reduced funding, we’ve kept it going.”

Johanson studied graphic design, art history and fine arts at City College and says that his experience was an invaluable one.

“I didn’t have the option to go to art school,” he said. “City College was the perfect place.”

Students are taking similar courses at the Academy of Art, which costs $765 per unit. City College, by contrast, costs $46 per unit.

“I’d be curious to see what the one percent thinks about this,” Johanson said. “They have a lot to do with it. City Hall, the state, the supervisors need to understand, without City College, they’re taking away the rights of a whole section of the Bay Area, editing society in general. It’s totally unacceptable.”

Over six weeks, students Julian Demark, Ramon De Santiago, Mike Kavanagh, and Dave Vizena curated the event. The student curators received about 68 submissions, and included at least one piece per artist in the show.

Student testimonials line the hallway. While Demark credits City College for advancing his artistic career, 70-year-old student Cecelia Wamfach, who has taken numerous City College courses, commends the school for improving the quality of her retirement. Wamfach said she is amazed by the knowledge of the instructors and enjoys getting to know young people and learning about their lives.

“City College always comes up first when you search for undergraduate art programs,” Vizena said. “The education here is excellent.”

The works on display in Accreditate This range in emotion.

An untitled watercolor piece by Kavanagh shows bleak-eyed citizens protesting with vibrant yellow signs that read, “Keep the community in community college,” one of a
few pieces that directly addresses the accreditation crisis.

“We transfer our students to California College of the Arts and San Francisco State,” design and painting instructor Nancy Elliott said. “If we’re not there, a lot of schools will be affected.”

Elliott is happy that students are taking a stand in the midst of a difficult time.

“The media is making the school out to appear dysfunctional and it is hurting students,” she said.

Art student Andres Wemiz’ piece features a detailed skeleton in watercolor on a neutral palette.

“Art fulfills people in a way other fields don’t,” Wemiz said.

Students plan on making this a regular event and have reserved the space for spring semester.

“City College is nurturing. It cultivates creativity,” said De Santiago. “It has great faculty, great students. It is a community within a community. Things like that cannot be accredited.”

The Student Success Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 27, limits students from repeating a previously-passed class in most circumstances and hampers students building their portfolios.

“Budget cuts have forced us to ration education, and we are currently turning away hundreds of thousands of students from our campuses who want to pursue a degree, transfer to a four-year university or get job training so they can get back into the workforce or advance in their current career,” California Community Colleges Board of Governors President Scott Himelstein said in a press release in May.

Follow Hawkins on Twitter: @DannieDoll
Follow Calderon on Twitter: @lesliebrook

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