Students get lesson in Downey history

DOWNEY - Downey Art Vibe, the non-profit group that operates Stay Gallery, launched its first pilot program with the Downey Unified School district last week, treating a third grade class to a tour of Downtown Downey. The May 28 field trip including a behind-the-scenes look at City Hall, an art project at Stay Gallery and free lunch at Burger City Grill.

The students were from Gallatin Elementary, which donated transportation. Gallatin principal Rani Bertsch, teacher Georgina Tanaka and Downey Art Vibe staff acted as tour guides and chaperones.

City Hall was the first stop, where students used school-provided iPads and iPod Touches to snap photographs of the John Gately Downey bust and other monuments in the civic center.

After touring council chambers, where city council meetings are held twice a month, the kids were met by community development director Brian Saeki, who explained the functions of City Hall.

Afterwards, Saeki gave students a brief lesson on key terms they had been studying throughout their history lessons, including "economy," "government" and what it means to be a "community."

Fire Chief Lonnie Croom joined the discussion and urged the third grade class to give back to their community.

"When we are young, it is easy to say that we are going to stay young, but to stay young, we have to stay happy, and to stay happy, we need to give back and be a part of our community," said Croom, who belongs to Downey Los Amigos Kiwanis service club. "That is why I am happy."

Mayor Mario Guerra then invited the kids to the third floor of City Hall, where they crammed inside the mayor's office and took pictures of the city seal. They also got an incredible view of Downtown Downey as they listened to Guerra tell stories about Downey's history.

Once outside City Hall, the students toured downtown and took pictures of street intersections and landmarks, including the Rives Mansion, Avenue Theatre and Porto's Bakery before arriving at Stay Gallery.

Inside the gallery, students engaged in a history lesson on Downtown Downey and an art lesson on scaling. Taught by Downey Art Vibe executive director Valentin Flores, the history lesson allowed students to compare the pictures they snapped that morning with photographs of downtown from more than 100 years ago.

"These are photographs from the Downey Historical Society's archives that were given to us for the sake of teaching our future generations the importance of our local history," Flores said.

Through the lesson, students noted the differences in architecture, transportation, fashion and the use of land in Downtown Downey.

"The point of the history lesson was to teach the students the evolution of Downtown Downey," Flores added. "We want them to start thinking about change over time and why certain businesses, organizations and institutions were preserved, and why others changed."

After the history lesson, students met Don Lamkin, the artist of "Downey Doodle-icious," a mural that encompasses several pieces of Downey's identity. A scaling exercise forced students to use their math skills to blow up the image they received by a factor of two.

The 28 students each received small canvases, pencils and markers, which were donated by Downey resident Michael Beralis. (Beralis also donated "Stay Young" t-shirts that students and volunteers wore during the field trip.)

Once completed, all 28 small canvases will come together to make one big mural that will be donated to Gallatin Elementary.

"We wanted each student to symbolically represent a piece of our community," said Gabriel Enamorado, creative director at Stay Gallery. "we hope that giving them an opportunity to create art on a canvas while being in a gallery sparks their hunger to create more. We have a ton of cool art projects in store for future elementary school students that pass through our doors."

Bertcsh, the Gallatin principal, said the pilot program "gave students experiences that they would not otherwise have at school by exposing them to different forms of art and an invaluable community experience."

Tanaka also praised the program.

"Unfortunately there is no time or money to do more art projects in the classroom, which makes teaching art-related lessons a little challenging at times," she said. "But I do know the kids will remember this art lesson because of how they enjoyed working together as a community to form something great."

"It is pretty interesting to be at the gallery because it is the first time for a lot of my classmates painting on a canvas and walking through this part of Downey," said student Daniel Angulo. "I really enjoyed the presentation Val (Flores) gave and the pictures he showed us from 100 years ago."

During times of dwindling school budgets, the arts are usually the first subjects to be cut, and the staff of Downey Art Vibe and Stay Gallery said they are happy to help fill the void.

"Being that it was our first time executing such an operation, I'm glad to say that I am proud of the way everything turned out," said Enamorado. "I hope it keeps them coming back to our downtown, and building up their pride for the place they call home."

********** Published: June 6, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 08