Grand Central Gallery

Santa Ana High School Students Learn About Art
at Grand Central Art Center

November 28, 2006

By Gail Matsunaga

Quietly they sit at tables or easels, concentrating on the work at hand: interpreting Lewis Carroll’s classic story “Alice in Wonderland” with acrylic paints on canvas or wood panels. The artists are students from Santa Ana High School participating in the Mixed Media Painting and Drawing program at Grand Central Art Center.

Some of the pieces are literal, like junior Freddie Acosta’s. He shows Alice as she’s just discovered the potion that will make her bigger. Others are reinterpretations of Alice’s adventures. Using paint and incorporating pieces of paper, sophomore Kari Roldan describes her piece as “how she gets in. There’s a shadow that’s going to open her body and pieces are going to come out, like the whole wonderland.”

On this particular day, Roldan is struggling with the shading for her shadow and tells Tracy Duran, a Cal State Fullerton graduate art student and the class instructor: “I think I screwed up, because I didn’t blend it here.”

Duran gently reassures Roldan: “It’s all right, just keep working on your blending.”

Over the last four years, the program and a variety of other arts-related workshops and classes have been offered at Grand Central by staff members, graduate students and professionals in the community as a way to engage youngsters in the arts, said Mike McGee, professor of art. Doing so, he said, “exposes them to the world beyond their immediate environment and, at the same time, mentors them toward the value of learning.”

Although children of all ages have participated in programs at the center at one time or another, it’s the high school students who are the primary focus of Grand Central’s outreach efforts, McGee said.

“As we watched the landscape of the Santa Ana art community grow, we increasingly saw arts-related outreach to the community being addressed by different organizations — mostly to young children,” he said. “Being just a block from Santa Ana High School, many of their students began coming to the art center and we recognized that most of these kids were not being reached by arts-related or other outreach programs.”

The programs have included such subjects as graphic design, photojournalism, drama, museum studies and design construction, website development and design, puppet performance, photo manipulation and 3-D design/sculpture, plus field trips to Bolsa Chica Wetlands and Bowers Museum.

During the city of Santa Ana’s One City, One Book reading campaign in 2002-03, Andrea Harris, director of the Grand Central Art Center, oversaw a variety of activities at the site to help promote the event. Local high school students gathered to read John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl” and created murals depicting the story. Students also participated in performances by the Puppets Café Group, who presented special performances based on themes from the Steinbeck classic to children and their families.

Back in the classroom, high school junior Jaime Lopez is working on a large close-up of Alice’s face. He said he first participated in the program two years ago, but “I stopped coming after my sophomore year. I came back two weeks ago, because I want to go into a career in tattooing and my teacher recommended that I need to practice. The painting is helping with how to blend different colors.”

Fall’s offerings include workshops on writing, design, social and political artist Sandow Birk, and exhibition design, in addition to Duran’s Mixed Media Painting & Drawing class. The courses extend beyond drawing, photography and painting, Harris said.

“The program gives the students confidence — it’s a launching pad,” she said. “They are pressuring each other to do better. It influences other aspects of their studies and their lives. They find themselves. They go into occupational programs or find after-school jobs.”

Duran has been teaching classes for two years. Like Harris, she said she sees the positive effects of art and how it can be used as a tool to improve her charges’ academic skills.

“We originally approached this strictly as an art class, with journals and sketchbooks,” she said. “Many of the students have a strong interest in art, but were struggling academically. My hope is that, by approaching art through literature, it will intrigue the students and give them a new outlook on reading, as well as teach them a new way of processing visual information.”

She said she believes that the program has been a success and points to one former student who entered Cal State Fullerton this semester on a scholarship, as well as two others who are beginning their studies — also on scholarships — at Laguna College of Art & Design.

Said Harris: “Only about five out of 100 students go into the arts. Our goal is to get at least 50 percent of the students in the program to go to college. It’s getting them to know that there are options out there.”

For information on opportunities to support the community outreach programs at Grand Central Art Center, call Harris at (714) 567-7234 or visit


Andrea and Mike McGee
Mike McGee & Andrea Harris

Grand Central
Grand Central Art Center