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Site-Specific Art


By Mary Daily

Published Oct 1, 2016 8:00 AM

UCLA Community School students gain sense of history through campus murals dedicated to Robert Kennedy.

Messages of hope greet students at the UCLA Community School. Photo by Charlie Hess.

Students at the UCLA Community School now have a daily reminder of the history of their campus. A new, 40-foot-high portrait of Robert F. Kennedy greets them and the students in the other five RFK Community Schools in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles. The schools occupy the former site of the Ambassador Hotel, where Kennedy was slain in 1968.

The new mural was created by artist Shepard Fairey of Obama “HOPE” fame. That seems particularly appropriate, since Rafer Johnson ’59, who was with the senator on that fateful night, says, “Robert Kennedy dedicated his life to keeping hope alive.”

The mural is one of 28 created by 30 artists during the five-day Branded Arts RFK Mural Festival in May, whose goal was to promote the arts among the 4,000 students on the 20-acre-plus campus. The event represented a collaboration between the L.A. Unified School District, the L.A. firm Branded Arts and Thinkspace Gallery. Many of the schools’ students served as production assistants, prepping walls and filling in sketched areas.

One of the participating artists, Obey Giant, said the project “allowed the artists to demonstrate to the kids firsthand how, large-scale works come together.”

Warren Brand, head of Branded Arts, which produces public and private murals around the world, says he hopes the works will have “positive social impact and inspire young people through art.”

UCLA Community School art teacher Grace Maddox says the murals make up a “walk-in museum. Anyone can visit the campus.” Living with the “breathtaking” works around them heightens the students’ appreciation of art, she says, adding that the themes depicted in the murals include “diversity, social justice, education and engagement.”

Fairey’s mural, which includes a quote from one of RFK’s most famous speeches, is not the first at the site to pay tribute to Kennedy. In 2010, UCLA Professor Judith Baca painted two murals honoring the late senator in the former ballroom of the hotel, now the schools’ media center.