Slanguage has had a great year being able to host a number of art residencies with many talented visual artists. However, we got a chance to host a literary residency for the first time with Mario Davila.  Mario is a man of many visions and ideas it was great getting to know a little more about his work.

Mario Davila on stage


1) I know you are in the middle of curating a series of events for your Slanguage literary arts residency, what’s the focus for these events?

The series of events is called FLOW, the events focus on language as a vehicle for expression and sharing. The events are also meant to facilitate creative exchanges among communities located near the Harbors of San Pedro, Long Beach and Wilmington. Our next project will utilize video to capture spoken word performances, personal stories, and poems from harbor area residents. As an artist in residence, who lives and works outside the harbor area, I felt it was important to work with, and feature local artists. Before working on any of the events, I spent a few months meeting with area residents, attending local events, and getting to know the area. I felt this was important, I wanted to the residency to be relevant to the communities around Slanguage.

2) What is the main focus of your work?

Primarily, teaching and producing. As Joseph Beuys used to say, “to be a teacher is my greatest work of art.” I don’t feel it’s always necessary to create objects, sometimes objects just get in the way. I get the most satisfaction from helping others access and share their creativity.

Project Spellbound

3) What motivates you to teach and direct different art formats to others such as with  young people?

I want to help free up and broaden definitions of art and artist. Imagine what the world would look like if people saw themselves as creative participants, if everyone adopted this mindset and acted accordingly. It’s unfortunate that most people, at least in our society, don’t see themselves as artists. I was five years old when adults first began pointing out my “artistic” talents; it turned out I had a facility for representational drawing. Since others seemed to value this art thing I began to embrace it, soon I became my school’s designated artist, I was in and everyone else was out, everyone. Eventually, in my late teens, the artist label, and definitions of art, began to feel limiting. I now see that anyone involved in a creative process is an artist.

4) Your belief is that “everyone is an artist”,  how do you go about teaching someone who might not be interested in art to become an artist.

As I see it, the main challenge is helping others see that they have always been creative, that they have always been artists.  For me questions about quality and format are secondary, the delineation lines are arbitrary. The way I see it, creativity + action = art. It doesn’t take much imagination to see where things are headed, just look how curators and scholars have been forced to broaden their definitions of what is and isn’t art; photography, video, performance art and aerosol art are now in the museums. Outdated dusty definitions, and issues of quality and individual taste aside, whenever you are consciously involved in creative action, including forming a thought, you are an artist. It’s what I believe, it’s political, and some people feel threatened by the implications.

5) What’s next, what goals do you have with your work?

Continue helping others connect with their creativity and speaking up against those who claim to know what art is. Voicing these opinions about art is often difficult and professionally risky. I tend to find the more time and money a person has invested in these ideas, especially scholars and critics, the more territorial they become with their definitions. I’m also looking forward to continued collaborations with Slanguage, I really admire how Slanguage works at providing opportunities for people to develop the skills needed to become articulate and confident artists.

Members of LAartlab

Keep your eyes and ears open for more projects with Mario in the fall add him on Facebook for more details.




Dona Junta


Bio: Throughout his career, Mario Davila has focused on helping people discover their creative talents and gain an appreciation for the creativity of others.  Mario currently serves as Director of the After School Arts Program (ASAP), the arts education department of LA’s BEST. Established in 1988, LA’s BEST is an afterschool enrichment program currently serving over 28,000 children at 179 public elementary schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District on a daily basis. LA’s BEST serves communities with the greatest needs and the fewest resources, providing children with safe and supervised education, enrichment and recreation activities at no cost to their parents and families.

Mario joined LA’s BEST in 2003 and helped create the ASAP department to ensure that all LA’s BEST sites have access to quality art education programs. To date, over 55,000 children have participated in a 20 hour visual or performing arts residency. In addition to hands-on workshops led by professional artists, LA’s BEST program activities include homework assistance, team sports, science, computer literacy, conflict resolution and nutrition.

Both an educator and an artist, Mario began working in arts education in 1991 as an artist educator for the education department at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Since then he has taught at hundreds of schools and a number of institutions and organizations including; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Watts Towers Arts Center, California State University of Los Angeles, I Have a Dream Foundation, HeArt Project and the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program.

In 1993 Mario founded Poetic Action, a co-op of young artists who volunteered their time to produce multimedia events throughout Los Angeles designed to help make the arts, especially poetry, more accessible and relevant to younger and broader audiences. For eight years, Poetic Action events showcased various forms of creative expression at venues throughout Los Angeles and long Beach.

Mario is also the founder of LAartlab, a self funded,  independent, all volunteer collective helping teens and young adults engage in the various  facets  of  the Los Angeles  arts community  and  California’s  creative  economy  by  providing  hands-on opportunities to help design,  produce and host free art events! LAartlab has produced and hosted events at a number of prominent venues including; JANM, MOCA, The Music Center, Ave 50 Studio and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. In June of 2011, LAartlab awarded its first $500 scholarships to graduating high school students for their leadership and volunteer work in helping make the arts more accessible to their peers and the general public.

In addition to his work with the above institutions and organizations, Mario Davila has volunteered as a teaching artist for a number of organizations including: the Los Angeles Children’s Court, Aids Project Los Angeles, the Cesar Chavez Foundation and Artists for a New South Africa, he currently sits on the Governing Board of the Barnsdall Art Park Foundation. (courtesy of  M.D)

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