Histories and Rituals

Community Arts’ Student Jacqueline Castillo shares her experience working with the residents of the Alder Hotel in San Francisco

Why I Believe in Community Arts

I believe that community arts has potential to heal, to teach, to include diverse voices, and to have endless applications. I am in the middle of my junior year at CCA and have been in community arts classes every semester, making this ENGAGE class not my first experience with community engagement. Other communities that I have engaged with during my time at CCA have been: fellow CCA students, young people in Palo Alto, and organizations in West Oakland. I have had the privilege of working in many positions that cater to community with an emphasis on art while working as a volunteer with People’s Kitchen Collective, and as an event organizer of my own projects. I have an understanding about what it takes to work in collaboration with a community while working towards the goal of creating art that matters in places that exceed a classroom.

Collaborating with and in a Community.

I learned how difficult it could be to try to align a classroom with different interests in order to create work for a place that none of us are used to. That being said, the projects that came out of our diverse skill set were amazing. I got to learn what my peers brought to the table as I was not familiar with what my peers were studying and what skills they brought to the table. For example, I was impressed with the photographs that were taken as they truly captured the spirit of those who participated and I thought the sound deadening solution was smart.

Our collaborating organization was wonderful through the way they supported us, engaged us, and through their availability. The context we got before we started working was comprehensive and I really felt like I learned a lot about the housing system in San Francisco and I won’t look at homelessness the same way again. This class gave me an opportunity to work in a community that I would not have had access to before which makes me feel more empowered to enact change in my community.

Jacquline shares Alder Hotel Resident Darnell Boyd’s  thoughts on working with CCA students:

Darnell was excited to be around young people and to have his prospective valued. He was also excited to see more color in the common spaces of the Alder because the space was so unactivated. He spoke about how SRO housing is seen as a place to die but now the art makes it feel like a place to live.  He was complimentary of how the students came to the Alder as frequently as they did and how they showed respect to them because he felt that they don’t get a lot of respect.





Tortilla Horizontal

La Tortilleria Horizontal built an experimental tortilla factory in Mexico City to engage the local community in conversation about the impact of GMO on corn and Mexican culture.


Corn holds a significant place in Mexican culture and history, and many native species are being endangered by big agriculture. La Tortilleria Horizontal built an experimental tortilla factory in Mexico City to engage the local community in conversation about the impact of GMO on corn and Mexican culture.

"Intriguing and unexpected people started to show up at the tortilleria and with them, they brought their own ideas and experiences. The tortilla was a simple space that offered a way to approach certain ideas but it was also way more about what the people did with those ideas and how they contributed and built upon that. The participation and engagement of the people who had the opportunity to stumble upon the project was the substance of what the tortilleria was all about and it is definitely what made the project so enriching and beautiful."

The team constructed a temporary storefront that operated for four weeks, hosting lectures, workshops, concerts, and communal meals. Community members could directly connect with their food heritage by making their own tortillas and engaging in dialogue around corn and GMO. Team La Tortilleria Horizontal envisioned this successful temporary operation as an interactive vehicle for awareness and community building that could be replicated at future sites.



Partnering with San Francisco Nonprofit Simply the Basics, Dahlia developed materials for a strategic marketing campaign

Project Dahlia was a reaction to the high levels of homelessness in San Francisco. The team was especially interested in addressing problems surrounding hygienic needs, and partnered with Simply the Basics to develop materials for a strategic marketing campaign. One of its main programs is managing and distributing hygiene donations to other organizations, and Simply the Basics is a valuable resource for other nonprofits as well as for homeless individuals. Team Dahlia supported them with spreading awareness to garner more community support and develop collaborative relationships with other organizations.


DeWonna and I

“DeWonna and I” offered a platform for Harrison residents to speak about the adversity people with drug and alcohol dependency experience. It brought awareness to perspectives that are normally invisible in the broader society.

Project Description:

Dominique Seward received a Center Micro–Grant to direct her short documentary film “DeWonna and I.” Inspired by her experiences at the Harrison Hotel, a residence for the formerly homeless, Dominique shared details of the therapeutic arts program through the story of two residents. “DeWonna and I” offered a platform for Harrison residents to speak about the adversity people with drug and alcohol dependency experience. It brought awareness to perspectives that are normally invisible in the broader society. Dominique created a more personal piece about the Harrison Hotel residents through filming her portrait of DeWonna.

Project Outcome:

The process of filming “DeWonna and I” had a deep impact on both Dominique and DeWonna. Since filming, DeWonna has moved out of the Harrison Hotel and into a place of her own. She has kept in touch with Dominique, and shared that filming the documentary changed her life in a positive way. DeWonna also shared that she has stopped smoking cigarettes and has begun to value her life more overall.  

Dominique’s experience with “DeWonna and I” inspired further projects, including a documentary entitled “The Truth about Huntington’s.” After filming “DeWonna and I” and “The Truth about Huntington’s”, Dominique knew she wanted to use her craft for social empowerment by giving people a voice through cinema. She was recently accepted into the Creative Mind Filmmakers Institute for Cannes 2015. As part of the institute, she will write, shoot, and screen a film for juried competition.



Write In/About Prison

CCA and San Quentin Writing Workshop students exchanged written works exploring the roots, themes, social and psychological significance of the “prison writing” genre.

Project Objective

In “Write In/About Prison,” ENGAGE students participated in writing exchanges with Writing students in the San Quentin Writing Workshop “Finding Your Voice on the Page” based on selected topics that included written and class critiques.  The class explored the roots, themes, social, and psychological significance of the “prison writing” genre enriched by texts written about and by prisoners.  ENGAGE students participated in the “San Quentin / CCA Throwdown,” a writing competition between CCA MFA in Writing students and inmate writing students in “Finding Your Voice on the Page.”   “Write In/About Prison” also included guest speakers who were writers, advocates, ex-cons, and professionals who work with incarcerated men and women or who are transitioning from prison.

Project Outcome(s)

Written materials from “Write In/About Prison” were gathered for a “Throwdown” collection of fiction, critical, and nonfiction works by both CCA students and inmates at San Quentin.  The book is a physical expression of the peer relationships formed during the ENGAGE course and only identifies the authors by name, not their institutional affiliations.  Materials selected from both CCA student and San Quentin writers were also shared at a reading held at the CCA Writers’ Studio on the San Francisco campus.


Dolores Shelter Program

Working to improve dormitory space at the Dolores Shelter in San Francisco, Interior Design students planned spaces to empower improve privacy for transgender guests.

Project Objective:

The “Dolores Shelter Program” introduced students to the principles of interior systems and spatial concepts through the creation/ development of 3D built and virtual spaces. In partnership with the Dolores Shelter Program [DSP], students undertook space planning and organization to empower DSP’s transgender population while improving the over-crowded dormitory and inefficient office/ common spaces. Students researched DSP’s site, conducted workshops, developed, and pitched proposals to the site Director to develop design concepts.

Project Outcome(s):

Students produced models to help visualize the design potential uncovered at the shelter and presented them to the Dolores Shelter administration. DSP staff was deeply invested in the ENGAGE project, and built close relationships with the students through regular feedback on designs and attending desk critiques at California College of the Arts. DSP Director Marlon Mendietta was so excited about the student’s designs for space saving furniture and privacy-providing bunk beds that he shared the ideas with shelter directors from across California. Assistant Professor Amy Campos has also presented this project at a variety of conferences in the U.S. and the U.K.


Most recently published as a case study in the compendium, Architecture Live Projects: Pedagogy into Practice. (Routledge, 2014).


Harrison Hotel

The Harrison Hotel, a residence for the formerly homeless, in Downtown Oakland, marked the site of collaboration and community building between students and residents for a mural series. Celebrating the residents’ personal stories, the seven murals show the value of public art by weaving together urban architecture, landscape, and language.

Project Objective:

Under Muralist, Eduardo Pineda’s instruction “Harrison Hotel” students gained valuable experience in the role of art making to strengthen community relationships by co-creating 7 murals. Informed by his experience in the Community Mural Movement, Pineda placed particular emphasis on the process of making a community art piece. ENGAGE students were asked students to learn about the complexities of the community ecology and cultivate trusting relationships through volunteering and working with the Harrison Hotel residents on mural designs. At each stage in development, “Harrison Hotel” collaborated with community organizations so that the final piece would give voice to the questions or issues that concerned each particular community group.

Project Outcomes(s):

“Harrison Hotel” resulted in seven murals exhibited along Jefferson and 12th Street in Downtown Oakland aptly titled “Building Community.” These murals showcase the residents’ personal stories as metaphors that weave together urban architecture, landscape, and language as a connection to the greater Oakland community. A collaborative effort on many levels, “Building Community” represents the efforts of residents, local nonprofit organizations and businesses to develop community ties.