Santa Monica Lookout
Pico Youth Get Ready for Debut at Santa Monica's Glow Festival
By Jason Islas
September 18, 2013 -- For the last six months, the kids at Virginia Avenue Park Teen Center in the heart of Santa Monica's Pico Neighborhood have been hard at work.
They are busy preparing because on the night of September 28, the group of nearly 30 high school and middle school students will transform itself into walking, talking works of art for Santa Monica's overnight art festival Glow.
The teens' project, conceived with the help of the Teen Center's artist-in-residence Jonathan Markowitz Bijur, will be the first youth-led art piece in the festival since Glow began in 2008.
The students, who have labored over their projects since last spring, will “bring a unique perspective on local youth culture,” said Jessica Cusick, the City's cultural affairs manager.
That perspective will come in the shape of personalized costumes designed with recycled materials, LED lights and electroluminescent (EL) wires, Bijur said.
“We applied and as I put this application together, it became clear that the best thing we could show at Glow was the teens themselves,” said Bijur, a “tinkerer,” librarian and stay-at-home dad.
In order to do that, he said, the teens have designed and built costumes that express themselves and represent their culture as residents of Santa Monica's Pico Neighborhood, historically the city's poorest.
The teens have been busy at work. They've built spikes out of recycled milk jugs and transformed theatrical fabric into wings and elaborate masks.
They've also created an eight-foot, cube-headed monster costume, Bijur said.
“The cube is totally blank,” he said. “It changes colors, it glows.”
The teens will place “silhouette faces on the outside of the cube,” Bijur said, some of which are “really abstract.
While it has been a fun experience for the teens to design and build their own costumes, it has also been educational.
“Glow wasn't something that was on the agenda for most of these kids,” Bijur said. The last time Glow happened -- in 2010 -- many of the kids were in elementary school.
“Multiple people have said that they had no idea what Glow was,” he said.
Now, these teens will be an integral part of the show.
“We will be part of the opening ceremony at the top of the ramp, leading down to the Pier,” Bijur said, which is a somewhat nerve-wracking prospect for the teens.
“They're a little intimidated being on display and chatting up strangers,” he said. But, they are also very excited.
In fact, when the project began last spring, Bijur started off with about 10 teens. As Glow drew nearer and other people at the Teen Center watched the costumes take shape, the numbers swelled.
“As it becomes more real, the excitement has been shooting up,” he said.
Bijur said that more and more teens want to participate. "Those who have watched from the sides... are ready to go,” he said.
While Bijur has generally guided students, allowing them the opportunity to let their creative impulses loose, he did set some parameters, guiding teens away from using “commercial characters” in their costumes.
He discouraged teens from creating straight replications of Pokemon or other pop-culture figures.
“While that's certainly part of youth culture, through the process that I led, we got to something that was deeper, more personalized and creative,” he said.
But he was open to teens incorporating some pop culture iconography into an original costume, combining “cultural artifacts to create something new.”
It's precisely that infusion of youthful energy -- and the fresh perspective that comes with it -- that Cusick wants.
“I think that the focus on and participation of local youth adds a wonderful dimension to the event,” she said.
And, some of the teens may end becoming future participants in Glow, which happens every three years, as adult artists.
“Three years from now, half of these kids will have graduated from high school and be off into the world,” Bijur said. “I hope they think of themselves of artists, at least a little bit more than before participating in Glow.”
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