It’s a cool night in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and ArtCenter student Maria Evelyn Romero Gomez is busy welcoming people to a Night to Network event at Las Fotos Project, a nonprofit which elevates the voices of teen girls and gender expansive youth from Latina/x and communities of color through photography classes and mentoring.
In a back room with rows of tables, ArtCenter alumni review Las Fotos students’ portfolios. At one table surrounded by a cluster of students, ArtCenter Admissions’ Tim Campos, associate vice president of recruitment and outreach, delivers a presentation on the College’s programs, from Photography and Imaging to Creative Direction.
Gomez, Las Fotos’ studio coordinator, knows the excitement of those students well. Born in Mexico, she moved with her family to Boyle Heights in her early teens, and joined the nonprofit at age 15. In late 2021, during a portfolio review, she met Campos, Photography alum Rhombie Sandoval (BFA 14) and Associate Professor Ann Elliott Cutting (BFA 87). Impressed by Gomez’ photos of friends, family and community—including a black-and-white shot of Gomez’s mother, little brother and grandmother at home, and a photo of a pair of kids’ cowboy boots in a local shop—Campos reached out to her. He encouraged Gomez to take a Spring 2022 ArtCenter Extension (ACX) course, with funding from ArtCenter’s Alexander and Adelaide Hixon Fund, and to then apply to ArtCenter.
I grew up in a low income area, where photography and art school were not talked about, so I’m thankful for this positive community at Las Fotos.Maria Evelyn Romero GomezPhotography and Imaging student
“I grew up in a low income area, where photography and art school were not things we talked about, so I’m thankful for this positive community at Las Fotos that helped me figure out my path,” says Gomez, who started at ArtCenter as a Photography student in Fall 2022, after having studied political science at East Los Angeles College. “Las Fotos was not only my pathway to ArtCenter, but it really gave me the skills I needed to not feel fully lost in school. I came in knowing what a darkroom was and how to shoot on film.”
Las Fotos is one of several L.A. community arts organizations, including Heart of Los Angeles, Greetings from South-Central L.A., Inner-City Arts and Ryman Arts, that Admissions has partnered with on portfolio reviews and skill-building workshops. These partnerships connect ArtCenter alumni and faculty with younger artists and designers, and create a pipeline of new ArtCenter students, like Gomez and her mentor, Melinda Arredondo (BFA 20 Photography), a Las Fotos teaching artist and former student. Importantly, they also boost ArtCenter’s efforts towards diversifying its student body, whose undergraduate population is currently 9% Latinx and 1% Black.
“We have alumni who share their stories about how they lived in South L.A., in other places in the greater L.A. area, and didn’t know about ArtCenter,” says Campos, who has been the driving force behind these community arts partnerships since he joined the College in 2016. “It’s important to make sure we’re representing students from different lived experiences and underrepresented backgrounds here in our own backyard.”
Campos first connected in 2019 with Las Fotos, which was founded in 2010 by photographer Eric V. Ibarra, and became a project of the nonprofit Community Partners in 2011. The partnership’s programming, since December 2021, has included portfolio reviews and workshops, and is ongoing.
“We’ve been able to show our students that spaces outside of Las Fotos Project value their voices and their lens,” says Diego Torres-Casso, Las Fotos’ program manager. “It’s personally been a joy to see how our students have begun to look at art school as a viable option.”
At the Night to Network event, Sandoval—a portrait photographer—sits in the portfolio review room with Photography alumni Celia Sanchez (BFA 16) and Karina Mendez (BFA 20). She scrolls through student Wendy Cubillo’s portraits, pausing at one shot of a young woman boldly bearing her shoulder while wearing a billowing orange dress and a white, crown-like headpiece. “Being here as alumni shows Las Fotos students the variety of work that’s possible, and how we found our own way after ArtCenter,” she says. “No matter where they decide to go after Las Fotos, I hope they stay true to their voices, and continue pursuing personal projects. I’m so impressed by the photographs they have already created.”
Cubillo founded her own magazine, East L.A.-based Eonagapi, which focuses on youth talent from underrepresented communities. This is her second year talking to Sandoval. “I love getting the time to talk to people who are super talented,” she says. “Rhombie gave me tips about what I could do with portraiture, with posing, lighting and interviewing. It’s really helpful having that one-on-one conversation.”
Mendez, a product and food photographer and former nurse, talks to an aspiring film student, Rhonin, about studying the cinematography of movies like Blade Runner, and taking more classes. Sanchez, a portrait photographer whose creative work includes a series on lowrider culture and another on untraditional mothers, brought her own teen daughter to the event. “I started doing photography as a hobby, and managed to make it into a career,” she says. “At this age, I never took my work into storytelling like these students do. It’s amazing.”
On the other side of Las Fotos, Campos switches between a computer slideshow and ArtCenter’s bright print Viewbook. He points to the long wall behind him, lined with photos of notable Black and Latinx celebrities—including a Time magazine cover of actress Tessa Thompson in a sparkling dark blue wide-shouldered power dress—by ArtCenter alum Gizelle Hernandez (BFA 14 Photography), and concert photos of screaming singers and musicians by Cubillo. Both are 2022 winners of the Fotos Awards’ annual Catalyst Award.
Besides developing programming with local organizations and recruitment programs addressing issues of access, Campos is passionate about informing students across L.A. and surrounding areas about ArtCenter, an art and design education, and careers related to art and design.
The Alexander and Adelaide Hixon Fund, he says, provides funding for high school and college-age students to participate in Admissions hosted workshops, and transportation for visiting groups to campus. Admissions also offers Outreach Grants to select students, like Gomez, in workshops to enroll in an ACX or ACX Teens courses.
Not every person he comes into contact with through these community arts partnerships is going to become an ArtCenter applicant, and that’s okay, adds Campos. “These events, whether we’re bringing alumni and faculty instructors to prospective students’ physical spaces or we’re bringing students to our campus, informs and inspires them,” he says. “I want there to be an impact, and for it to be lasting.”