The tiny, unassuming cubicle that Allegra Padilla occupies on the top floor of the Mary Norton Clapp library does little to contain her enthusiasm for the upcoming semester as Occidental’s new coordinator for community programs. Padilla assumed her new role in January. Her position was recently created to act as a liaison between various community partnership departments at Occidental, including Oxy Arts, the Center for Community Based Learning and the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles.
According to Padilla, the position aims to work with local families, cultural workers, neighbors, local businesses and organizations to promote collaboration within the community. An example of such projects includes the opening of an Occidental-owned space on York Boulevard, a soon-to-be art hub funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, according to Occidental’s website.
“I seek to keep [community members and organizations] in the loop about the amazing events Oxy has but also to serve as a main connection for everyone to know that Oxy as an educational institution in LA is also a community partner,” Padilla said.
As a facilitator between three departments, her tasks involve constant communication via email, phone and person-to-person dialogue to ensure the promotion, organization and completion of ongoing projects and events.
Padilla has extensive experience working with nonprofit organizations and connecting communities with artistic projects. Padilla was raised in Northeast Los Angeles and later attended the University of California Santa Cruz to pursue a degree in Community Studies. Her educational career led to a six-month internship at Self-Help Graphics, which introduced her to the power of art.
“I saw how people come together with the arts regardless of ideologies, race, class and so on,” Padilla said. “The unifying aspect of art has been [a major] part of my life.”
Her position at Occidental is a digression from the non-profit work in which she was previously engaged. She views her new role as an opportunity for growth. This new position will also allow her to fully utilize the many resources of a college, including various departments, faculty members and ongoing projects.
“I see Oxy as being a leader in relations between an institution of higher education and the community. There is power with shared resources, and the spirit of collaboration definitely lives here,” Padilla said.
These resources include the Office of Community Engagement, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute and the Neighborhood Partnership Program, all of which work to promote collaboration between the school and the wider community.
As previously mentioned, one of her first projects includes collaborating with Oxy Arts, community members and other parties to facilitate the opening of the art space on York. The property rests in Highland Park, one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the country according to NPR Marketplace. The responsibility of the college to address the seriousness of gentrification as they develop property in this area requires very careful planning and a nuanced skill set. Deena Selenow, director of Oxy Arts, saw these essential qualities in Padilla during the hiring process.
“[She] has a great attitude and tons of experience,” Selenow said. “Interviewing her felt less like an interview and more a meeting to talk about goals and how to deeply engage the Oxy community in Community Based Learning art making.”
Both women envision the space (with tentative plans to open Spring 2018) to be incredibly reciprocal between the community and the school.
“What is one more thing I can do to make this space more inclusive? How do I make the relationship reciprocal?” Selenow asked. “Allegra keeps me accountable.”
Potential ideas regarding use of the space vary from art workshops led by high school students to allocating gallery space for Occidental and local artists, according to Selenow.
Despite the many challenges that come with meeting the many demands of various groups and people during collaboration, Padilla is determined to build a powerful network of community partners. Her experiences and relationships with Los Angeles and members of the community have undoubtedly fueled her ambition.
“Our city would be so different if we had community arts spaces every 30 blocks,” said Padilla. “I’m excited to make history,”.
Students interested in participating in the aforementioned mentioned projects/departments, or those with any questions, can contact Ms. Padilla at [email protected]