Like many practicing artists, Martin Durazo is also an educator, having taught at colleges like Otis and Pomona. But he’s made an indelible mark as a public school teacher, having taught at Inner-City Arts Los Angeles, the Montebello Unified School District. Since 2008 he’s been teaching art history, ceramics, and film at Lynwood High School in a suburb southeast of Los Angeles.
Artillery: You recently traveled to Sacramento to lobby for increased public funding for the arts in California. What are your thoughts about the state of arts education in California public schools, specifically fine arts education in traditionally underserved communities?
Durazo: I think the state of the arts in the California public school system is pretty sad because of the disproportionate number of teachers in the arts departments compared to the teachers in the other departments. And arts teachers are always scrambling to find materials, which are never given enough money in the budget. As an arts educator,I have advocated for the arts to be on the equal footing with all other subjects taught in schools and continue to fight for increased funding so that the previous shrinkage is counteracted with sustained growth.
As a seasoned educator and a successful practicing artist, do you find your classroom assignments overlap with your own artwork and vice versa?
My classroom assignments and my studio work rarely overlap. However it would be hard to deny that they have influence over each other in terms of inspiration and occasional aesthetics. For example, when I introduced students to the use of spray paint with finished ceramics, I found that sometimes the forms, the lines, of my students’ finished pieces echo in my work.
Who are some educators who made the greatest pedagogical impact on you as a teacher?
I believe that my middle school teacher Vivian Nikas exposed me to my first Artforum magazine in the early ’80s. At UCLA I was truly inspired by Paul McCarthy and Dan Graham. Paul introduced me to Raphael Montañez Ortiz’ work and his work inspired me to think about re-contextualizing objects. Dan always encouraged me to think about art and social structures outside of the United States.
What books do you wish you had read before teaching your first art class?
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, which encourages teachers to be learners and learners to be teachers.
Tell me about one student whose work has truly surprised you.
One student I still think about quite often and who is truly talented is Jacky Moreno. She created these small quirky ceramic creatures that truly inspired me.