“... Hijos del Sol is trying to create spaces for that creative person; that kid that has a lot of imagination, a lot of love for life and wants to create this magic.”
Local artist José Ortiz is everything one would imagine an artist to be. With tawny feathered hair and wayfarer sunglasses, his cool-guy energy adds to his charm. His lifelong artistic endeavors have helped him develop the emotional and spiritual insight of the interconnectedness of humanity. He comments on our natural gravitation toward the arts, “the strength of humans is that we’re all creative … we’re all the same in the important things, that’s what brings us together.”
The studio’s founding director and lead art instructor, Ortiz doesn’t consider himself a leader at Hijos del Sol Arts Productions–-a community youth arts program serving the youth of the Salinas Valley since 1994. Rather, he views himself more as a friend, a helping hand and an artistic incubator providing aspiring youth artists tools to empower the voices of young people.
for community building
The HDS Experimental Studio is an inclusive program that gives young artists an opportunity to experiment with various classical and contemporary art mediums in an accessible and judgment-free environment, allowing creative, philosophical and cultural expression. The Garabatos (Scribbles) project allows for complete artistic freedom, by allowing students to use any and all mediums to explore their abilities and artistic preferences. With the help of HDS instructors, the students design and execute the exhibition to be enjoyed by friends, family and their community. Students are encouraged to find joy in this freedom while proving creative structure and working toward a common goal.
“... Hijos del Sol is trying to create spaces for that creative person; that kid that has a lot of imagination, a lot of love for life and wants to create this magic,” he explains.
East Salinas is a vibrant community built by immigration into the Salinas Valley. A native Tepahuáne of Mexico and a transplant himself, Ortiz knows first-hand the local immigrant experience, of not having enough, of cramped housing with little space for artistic expression. It wasn’t until his time at University of California, Santa Cruz that he experienced the liberation of having ample studio space, inspiring him to create space for the “studio-less.”
You’ve likely seen some of his work.
Ortiz and his team of muralists are the masterminds behind some of the stunning murals across Monterey County. Ortiz and his team plan and execute massive pieces sprawled across once blank walls of schools and community buildings. And coming full circle, Ortiz continues to work with past students, but this time on an equal playing field as professionals.
Those who stick with the program have the opportunity to witness what a career path in the arts can look like, creating lifelong relationships between mentors and mentees. Artists Juan Carlos Padilla and José “Pepe” Nolasco are shining examples of HDS’ lasting impact on participating youth. Both continue to work alongside Ortiz to this day.
Padilla remembers how he got his start.
“I met José in one of my classes, he would go to schools and then do presentations of illustrations … that was when I realized that I was able to paint.” Decades after his mentorship with Ortiz, Padilla still reminisces on the feelings of anticipatory excitement and warmth and the comforting scent of oil pigment at the HDS studio.
Nolasco reminisces on his similar experience with Ortiz, “When José came to do a little studio, that’s when I noticed I needed more practice on my drawing skills. He showed me how to use shapes to my advantage.”
The studio enabled them to explore their creative abilities, starting with illustration and eventually venturing to other mediums such as sculpting, acrylic painting and muralism. And thanks to these experiences, today, both Padilla and Nolasco have dynamic careers in the arts.
Padilla’s work at HDS allowed him to develop a robust portfolio at a young age, giving him an edge over competing young artists. But most importantly, he’s proud of his life’s work. His childhood spent in the studio not only helped develop his creative skill set, but also equipped him with the self-confidence needed to be successful in life; he found his voice.
He plans to pass forward the knowledge he gained with HDS, “It’s knowledge that you have, you can’t just let it go to waste, you can’t let it disappear, you have to pass it on.”
For Padilla, being a mentor is a moral responsibility to later generations.
Nolasco has followed a similar path to Ortiz by serving as an art instructor at the Dual Immersion Academy in Salinas. Several HDS Collective Exhibits have featured his work, and he executed a solo exhibit at the CSUMB Salinas Center for Arts and Culture. A gifted muralist, you can see Nolasco’s work across Monterey and Santa Cruz counties and in Oakland. His history with HDS drives his passion for arts education, “I tell my students, you can be a muralist or illustrator [etc.]
with your abilities.”
HDS projects give young artists an opportunity to learn how to use self-compassion as a tool for artistic exploration. Instructors encourage fearlessness when trying something new, a skill needed to take on life’s biggest challenges. These invaluable tools transcend beyond the arts; they are meant to guide them through life. Allowing children to develop their own voice is the heart that drives the art at HDS. Mentors push the importance of providing a safe, supportive environment for the kids to grow into themselves with the potential of creating lasting change in their communities.
The studio is a sanctuary with a ripple effect. The contagiousness of the children’s happiness and confidence has the potential to shift their environment, peers, families and the greater community. The sharing of stories and gifts gives others permission to do the same, to be and feel seen. HDS acts as a catalyst for personal artistic growth in an environment where everyone feels equally valued, including the importance of others witnessing the need for maintaining art programs for youth and beyond.
“I’ve seen children not speaking, being afraid to speak. So when they come to the studio, it takes them a little bit, but …when you see a child start to love themselves, I think we’re doing something.”
But we’ll let you in on a little secret…
The real social media magic happens over on their Youtube channel! Check out a variety of digital works and archived projects created by youth artists and mentors!