Many organizations have a physical and/or conceptual hub or center that they build themselves up around. For LA 501 (c)3 non-profit organization Art Division, this hub, foundation, and permanent base is their art library. The library currently contains between 8,000 to 10,000 books and resources and is still growing—they frequently get calls from people who have art book collections that need to find a new home.
Art Division serves the Mac Arthur Park neighborhood, whose residents are largely of Latino ethnicity and the Rampart District of Los Angeles. This is an area with a dense population and a low comparable amount of community services available and the Art Division site characterizes the youth there as “at-risk” within an “underserved community.” Artist, art teacher, and non-profit education professional Dan McCleary founded Art Division in 2010 along with Maria Galicia, Javier Carrillo, and Emmanuel Galvez and they gained their non-profit status in 2011.
Dan McCleary is a fine artist with an extensive exhibition history and an experienced art professor–explore his paintings and CV here. He was inspired to found Art Division while employed as the Director of Art Programs at a nonprofit after-school program called Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA). HOLA supports youth in areas experiencing high poverty and crime to build stronger and more hopeful communities by offering “free, exceptional programs in academics, arts, and athletics within a nurturing environment.” So, McCleary already had experience in providing local youth with enriching programming before founding Art Division. He observed that the youth he worked with who finished high school often hit a wall in being able to access artistic educational activities, creative professional development, career training possibilities, and bridges to practicing art in adulthood. This troubling transition inspired him to found Art Division, which serves and trains youth and young adults in the 18-25 age range who want to pursue further studies in the visual arts. In a Los Angeles Downtown News article, McCleary says, “There are very few services for young adults…once you hit 18, you’re on your own and I was finding that a lot of kids just ended up lost. So this provides them a path.” He’s pictured below at the Art Division library in the LA Downtown News article:
Another primary inspiration and central foundation for McCleary was his late mother’s art book collection. Artsy explains that as a way of honoring her and his father’s interest in reading and art book collecting, he asked for her passing in 2004 to be honored with art books rather than flowers. As the news traveled that he was seeking art books, many community members pitched in. LA conceptual and performance artist Chris Burden also donated his late mother’s art book collection. The growing collection became Art Division’s library and thereafter Art Division branched out to include several creative studios and a gallery space. A visit to the Graphic Arts Institute of Oaxaca in Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico, which itself holds a monumental art library (below), was another source of illumination and motivation for McCleary to organize a similar library in his own stomping ground, MacArthur Park.
McCleary shared with Artsy that he sees the free classes for inner-city young adults at Art Division as comparable to a “high-end Master’s program,” and that it also “serves as a space where residents can come to relax, foster ideas, and hone their art historical knowledge.” As well as being a place to take classes, Art Division is a safe place for doing homework, research, other work in the library, eating, or engaging with the talented and dedicated staff, volunteers, and professional artists. Their classes, which are about 12 weeks long, and the art materials needed, are free to students and anyone can enjoy and use the library. They are open six days a week (Monday to Saturday) from 11 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. Here’s some more information on their spaces, which are split into four sites:
- 6th Street: At 2418 W. 6th St. is the Art Division Library. The collection includes volumes on painting, architecture, design, art history, photography, and more. Their site explains that this is the heart of the non-profit, and that “classes such as Creative Writing, Film Collective, Art History and College and Career coaching are held in the library, as well as lectures and screenings.” At 2430 W. 6th ST. is the painting studio and gallery.
Classes and open studio time are held here and the exhibition space hosts multiple shows during the year and enables students to participate in exhibits with established creators.
- Rampart Boulevard: There are two studios on Rampart Blvd., which were donated by the Los Angeles Housing Partnership. This local non-profit has been working since 1989 to improve decent affordable housing in LA “for low income households and the homeless.” The drawing studio is located in the Tides building recreation room at 623 S. Rampart Blvd. This was Art Division’s original 2010 home and the senior citizens who live in this building can also participate in the art classes there. At 512 S. Rampart Blvd. is the printmaking studio, which immerses students in various printmaking media lessons, including in wood block, linoleum, rubber, and dry point etching. Students who attend Art Division also get to visit local art museums and galleries, including the nearby The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA).
Art Division’s mission statement shares that they believe
“that focused instruction, individualized tutoring, and personal support gives students the tools they need to pursue higher education, achieve self-sufficiency, and obtain careers in the arts and related fields. Art Division is also dedicated to community engagement and to building a thriving arts community in the Rampart District.”