Visual Element is the public arts component of the EastSide Arts Alliance and a visual arts graffiti training program for high school youth. Because it is the only intensive "Urban Graffiti Arts" program in East Oakland serving high school youth, Visual Element attracts graffiti writers, usually young men ages 15-20. Our class facilitates the production of "legal" walls (authorized graffiti murals). Our students are trained as community artists and also create political banners for a number of social justice causes.
The Visual Element program is needed because there is a lack of intensive long-term art programs that focus both on arts skills and business development. Most art programs in the area target elementary and middle school youth. Older creative youth, which tend to be more serious about their art, don't have a program to plug into. Teenagers are interested in programs that offer employment. ESAA is a collective of local artists of color who are paid for their valuable work in the community. The arts are a viable enterprise, which require its own learning models. Finally, public art projects, visible to the entire community, send the message that productive and self-sufficient youth can contribute positive change to the neighborhoods. Murals educate, motivate to action, and inspire more creations of beauty.
The participants of Visual Element learn a variety of visual arts skills that include spray can techniques, "graffiti" writing, mural brush painting and computer/digital photography and graphic design. They learn these skills through actual project based work, building a portfolio of work as they undergo their training. As they get more and more proficient they then are able to "shop" their skills back to the neighborhood.