Athena Project

For the Athena Project, CCA students worked alongside students from ARISE High School, in Fruitvale, Oakland California to co-create murals.


Illustration student Ella Enkhsarnai shares her experience partnering with ARISE High School students

Connecting Communities

As I grew up and became more aware of my community, I began to think about what I could do to help my nation, Mongolia or even the United States, become a better place to live for the citizens with adequate living conditions by collaborating with the people who yearn for the same goal. Life in Mongolia is not always easy—hardship has always been present.  California College of the Art’s motto, “Make Art that Matters,” reached out to me, and here I am today as an Illustration major, facing a world of the unknown, absent of complete reassurance of my future but somehow feeling complete as ever doing something I love with an endless passion, and ready to embrace faults and mistakes to ultimately to create art that matters.  Before taking Athena Project as an ENGAGE course, I was, and still am, a Chimera Leader (CCA Student Leadership) who strives to bridge communities within and outside of the campus, advocates for the students, and guides new artistic-citizens to successfully transition into life at CCA. I had some experience in managing as well as mentoring students, so when the class began, I was extremely eager to meet and collaborate with new students to design and create community art that addresses issues relevant to the culturally mixed Fruitvale district.


Easing into Engagement

Of course, in the beginning, like everyone else, I was lost in the midst of all, perhaps overthinking about every word that came out of my mouth or every move that I made in front of the students to get them engaged and keep them interested.

I have learned that it is okay if there are some awkward and quiet moments, it is okay if the students do not want to engage in the activity at that time, and it is totally okay if I cannot reach every student. I have realized that it is remarkably significant to value each student who is showing up and participating, even if some might not be interested in art, they are still showing up and listening, and whoever shows up is the right person.


Learning as Peers

Since they were high school students only a few years younger than I am, we were much more like friends, teaching and learning from one another class to class. The progress of our friendship from beginning to end, slowly coming out of our own shells until we began to just freely converse about anything, was truly a highlight of the overall experience. Even though we, as mentors, are specialists in different branches of art making, our role was to guide the students to find and amplify their own voices, valuing each individuals’ expertise and interests that they bring to collaboration.

In working in the Athena Project, Ella Spoke with ARISE student, Katherine:

(Katherine) “lived here in the Fruitvale district her whole life,” born and raised. From her point of view, the goal of The Athena Project was to provide a space where they can “ask questions … to work with each other, to find a way to connect with people from other areas, from different backgrounds”

We, as mentors, strived to be the backbone the students needed to lean on for support, to eventually and hopefully provide them enough nourishment to grow and bloom to keep pushing on and decide for themselves what they need to know. It was so much less about what we know and more about what we learned.

Ella spoke with ARISE High School faculty, Nils Heymann:

This is the fourth year Mr. Nils has worked with the CCA students, and he has “always enjoyed having that mentor relationship where the CCA students are not teachers, not friends, nor high school students, but rather a mixture of things where the students can have casual and yet still have the mentor and mentee relationship…[the time] where everything gets pulled together, from day one to where everybody is shy to the last day where everyone is talking”(Heymann) has been immensely enjoyable to see.

From the sketch phase to the final, we painted, got painted on, laughed, cried and celebrated together when we finally finished. Through this experience at Athena Project, I am more aware about others and I, as well as the social issues in Oakland than ever before. In the future, I want to keep participating and volunteering in organizations that are for the people through art somehow, and I am just beginning to discover this interest enriched by the Athena Project.