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CommonLore—Practitioner Advisory Group

CECILIA ARANA
Photographer / Mentor / MFA Graduate Candidate
Otis College of Art and Design / Las Photas / Venice Arts—Los Angeles, CA
cecilia aranaCeci is an Otis College of Art and Design graduate, with a Bachelors of Fine Art and Community Arts Engagement. She will soon be pursuing her Master’s in Education/Teaching. She is also an alumna of CWI’s Summer WEST Institute. As someone who has experienced the disadvantages of the educational programs where she lives in South Central Los Angeles first-hand, she wishes to continue learning in order to return and teach others. She currently mentors at the Las Fotos Project, as well as Venice Arts (two organizations that focus on low income communities). Ceci teaches students from all ages the art of storytelling through photography, film, and book making. It is important for Ceci that young people begin to use storytelling and art to share their experiences, their stories, as well as share their voices. She is a strong believer that through the empowerment of the youth, change will begin to happen.
ceci aranaCeci’s personal work consists of documenting her family, primarily her younger sister. She has been photographing her since the day she was born and has made multiple bodies of work embodying the changes she experiences. Through photographs and books, she is able to share the changes with her viewers. Ceci says she finds it important to capture the precious moments when a child starts to find who they are and finds interest in how they start to shape their lives through the cultures surrounding them. This passion for sharing her 8-year-old sister’s growth trickles down to the passion she has in teaching others. She wishes to have her students not only document, but be able to identify and accept the changes they experience as they grow and find their voice. (enlarge photo at left)
Raised in South Central, Los Angeles, Ceci says she was pressured by the vices that many young people fall victims to in her community. She shares that "I made it my ultimate goal to try hard and find my way out. I could not have done it without the help of a handful of teachers throughout my education that strove to see me achieve. They saw my potential and did everything they could and more to see me put it to good use. I found photography and was able to use it as a way to find my voice, express it creatively, and move on to a prestigious college where I graduated with many awards" Ceci goes on to say, "I decided early on that I must do the same for others in my community, to help them find their talent, their voice and help them push it forth in order to succeed not only in life, but to create a more stable community back home. I am an educator in my daily life whether it’s me teaching my younger sister or mentoring students in a classroom environment." Ceci work at two non-profit organizations. One is Venice Arts that strives to educate and help children and young service learningadults from the community find their voices, but also learn life skills in communication in general through photography and film. She does similar work with a photography focused program called Las Fotos Project. "I wish to continue not only educating others, but educating myself as well so that I can be up to date in effective methods that can make the most impact." She says. Ceci notes that she was fortunate enough to make long-lasting connections with her professors at Otis College of Art and Design who provided her with "endless opportunities." "They helped me to achieve my ultimate dream of eventually being able to create my own space where I too, can teach the youth of my community to find their voice and seek a better path." Ceci says that this was the same reason she found herself coming to CWI's Summer WEST Institute on Place Based Service-Learning, "to continue to learn."She says CWI's Institute was "my first time being surrounded by educators from around the world that have the same goals as I do." ceciIn her home town of Los Angeles, during CWI's Summer WEST Institute, Ceci participated in a full group field practicum, using newly learned Institute skills in "Collaborative Ethnography." She and thirty fellow educators, from a host of K-16 and community backgrounds, spent a day walking the streets in the old business and theater district of downtown LA. They were doing ethnographic research by observing change, talking with people on the street of all contexts and backgrounds, as they worked to put the pieces of that "place" together, including for sharing with the full group later. (at right-Ceci and student photographer Carlos)

Working in small groups, Ceci and her Institute collegues brought back a multi-layered and often deeply troubling picture of an urban community in rapid change—sometimes driven by unseen forces—with many residents and business owners being left out, or forced out. They also talked with other people in the downtown area that seemed very comfortable with the changes, or at least accepting of the rapid development and gentrification of the formerly heavily latino neighborhood.

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