Mark Bradford may be best known for working in abstraction, but the L.A.-based artist is committed to thinking through how to change the art world—and the world at large—in concrete, tangible ways.
Nearly a decade ago, Bradford cofounded the nonprofit Art + Practice in the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Leimert Park with the simple idea that residents of the community shouldn’t have to travel far from home to see exciting and engaging art. More recently he has been thinking through how arts education can build community and be a tool to shed light on larger societal issues.
“Investing in education is an investment in the future,” Bradford told ARTnews in an email interview. “Where those resources go now and who benefits impacts what our society can look like moving forward. With our shared commitment to social practice, it made sense to use this platform to contribute to this evolving social landscape.”
As part of a collaboration with the education-focused nonprofit PILAglobal, Bradford and his gallery Hauser & Wirth will launch a new initiative, the Education Lab LA project, that will be centered at the gallery’s location in downtown Los Angeles.
“Mark has always understood the impact that creative expression has on young children, particularly those experiencing tremendous adversity,” PILAglobal’s CEO Lindsay Weissert told ARTnews.
The project involves a close collaboration with 17 high schools students from the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (often referred to as Grand Arts) that is just over a mile from the gallery. In selecting Grand Arts, Bradford said he was particularly drawn to “the diversity of its student body and its role within the local community of downtown L.A.”
“Education has been central to our vision and a priority since the gallery’s inception thirty years ago,” Manuela Wirth, the gallery’s cofounder, told ARTnews. “Our goal from the beginning has been to catalyze community and to forge links between our artists and the community in as many ways as possible. This initiative is a reflection of Mark’s long commitment to social practice and community engagement. We share his passion for community building through education and have learned so much from his own approach.”
The Education Lab LA project is divided into two parts.
This past spring, the students began a series of workshops with various departments at Hauser & Wirth to learn more about how a contemporary art gallery—particularly one on the scale of Hauser & Wirth—operates. In addition to a studio visit with Bradford, some of the workshops have included a social media skills course by the marketing and communications team, a demonstration on the basics of art handling and installation by the tech team, and one in which students virtually curated an art exhibition in tandem with both the sales and operations teams.
“We wanted to provide the students with a memorable learning experience and to give them the unparalleled opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the day-to-day operations of the business,” Wirth said. “In this way, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles has become their campus.”
Over the summer, the students will work with Bradford and the teams at PILAglobal and Hauser & Wirth to create a visual arts project highlighting the refugee crisis and its impact. That work, which will go on view beginning July 16, will live in the gallery’s north breezeway, where large-scale installations are often mounted, as well as an installation in the gallery’s Book and Printed Matter Lab.
“Los Angeles is a city of immigrants,” Weissert said. “It’s important to share our own origin stories and also to recognize the experiences of people—communities marginalized by systems of power and privilege—who are still on the move. The Education Lab is a place where we can showcase these diverse perspectives, of students in Los Angeles and young learners still waiting for a place to call home.”
This new initiative draws on a similar one that the artist piloted during 2021 at Hauser & Wirth’s space in Menorca, where Bradford completed a residency ahead of an exhibition there. As part of his residency, he also worked with students from the Escola d’Art de Menorca on a collaborative art project also looking at the global refugee crisis.
Bradford has been engaged with PILAglobal, which is also based in L.A., for the past several years, because he sees them both as sharing a “passion for education and experimental pedagogy, particularly where it intersects with the pressing social and humanitarian issue of immigration.”
Part of PILAglobal’s efforts include building “Nests,” or “safe havens for children to learn, play and heal away from the refugee camps and migrant shelters,” according to Weissert. PILAglobal currently runs “Nests” in Greece, Mexico, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe.
“From the moment I saw how children transform in the Nest—from burdened and serious back into playful, joyful children—I prayed that someone inﬂuential would share our work,” Weissert said. “The fact that it was Mark Bradford, who has always amplified the voices of marginalized communities, made it that much more special.”
She added, “We believe that experiential education has the power to provoke fresh ideas, invigorate communities, and inspire change.”
Recently, Bradford and Wirth had been thinking about on how to bring their collaboration home. “After the reception of the project in Menorca, we thought it made sense to borrow from that model here, where the context of our Southern border makes the refugee crisis so much more visible,” Bradford said. One way that has happened already has been connecting the Grand Arts students with students who participate in the Nest program in Tijuana.
And Bradford sees a program like the Education Lab as having broader implications within the art world as well. “If we are committed to increasing diversity in the art world, we have to start by creating opportunities for access for people from different backgrounds,” he said. “L.A. is one of the most diverse cities in the country, and I can think of no better place to provide an educational program like this for such a group of young artists.”