Keeping arts education at the forefront

This newspaper has been criticized in the past for heavy coverage of Stay Gallery, the downtown art gallery and community space that is not yet two years old. My response has always been that we are not writing about Stay Gallery – our coverage is that of the people and unique activities taking place inside its walls. It’s an important distinction.

Without Stay Gallery, it’s likely the Downey community would never have been introduced to Cristian Castro, a talented industrial designer whose home-built robots could have been plucked straight out of a “Transformers” movie.

Earlier this year, the gallery hosted an exhibit by Anne Rigney, a respected Irish artist whose works have appeared throughout various parts of Europe. Any Southern California art gallery would have been eager to host her.

Stay Gallery is operated by non-profit Downey Art Vibe, which has not hesitated to partner with local groups and make its space available for causes that enrich the Downey community. The gallery hosted a fundraiser last year that helped Downey High School’s championship football team purchase their much-deserved title rings, and during the wintertime collected more than 200 toys for underprivileged families.

But Downey Art Vibe’s most distinguished work has been with the children of Downey, whose cultural and artistic awareness have been unquestionably heightened thanks to Stay Gallery.

Last week, while munching on hamburgers and hot dogs, third grade students from Gallatin Elementary examined the abstract art hanging from the Stay Gallery walls. They pointed and critiqued, oohed and aahed, and in hushed tones shared their personal favorites. These kids were talking art.

Three days later, the gallery brimmed with high school students competing in the third annual Downey-Warren Photography Exhibit. Cristina Contreras, it should be noted, won first place for her up-close black and white portrait of a giraffe.

In 2013 alone, the gallery:

•hosted dozens of Carpenter Elementary fourth and fifth graders for a “Why We Love Downey” exhibit;

•hosted Maude Price Elementary’s PTA Reflections contest;

•treated more than 70 Sussman Middle School students to Cristian Castro’s “Bones of Steel” exhibit;

•introduced Gallatin Elementary third graders to the pilot “Downey Doodle-icious” program;

•and hosted hundreds of Downey and Warren students who visited the gallery during field trips and for extra credit assignments. This is to say nothing of the curious teens who have popped into the gallery on their own accord to peruse art, catch live music or perhaps take in a poetry reading.

Downey Art Vibe’s children’s outreach has only increased this summer with the launch of their “Stay Young” initiative, which is currently underway and incorporates a slew of art- and culture-related programs aimed specifically at young minds.

With public schools under continuing pressure to cut costs, art and cultural programs are usually first to be eliminated. Downey Art Vibe is not a replacement to arts education in our schools, but it is helping fill that gap in learning.

More than that, a generation of Downey children is being inspired to pursue their artistic abilities and to recognize the value in culture.



Published: June 12, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 09