Interview 5 series
by Pantea Karimi

Interview 5 is a series of interviews with individual artists who have left a meaningful impact in their communities.
Interviewee: Corinne Okada Takara

Corrine Okada Takara is a mixed-media artist and arts educator, who composes sculptures of both elegant and mundane materials that tell stories about the collision and intersection of cultures. Okada was selected as one of three Silicon Valley educators to represent the Bay Area at the Microsoft 2011 Innovative Education Forum. She will be presenting the You Are Here Street Banner Project.

Interview 5: Tell me about your current project, You Are Here Street Banner. What is the main goal you would like to achieve by doing this project?

Corinne Okada Takara (COT): The You Are Here Street Banner project is a workshop series exploring community and identity through photography and digital textile design. This project idea began in the summer of 2010. We started the workshops in the winter and are now in the phase of photographing the neighborhoods. On June 20th students presented their collaborative banner designs to the Alum Rock Village Business Association for approval. The following day they presented to the Office of Cultural Affairs at City Hall. The final install date (at the time of this writing) is yet to be determined. I am hopeful for a July or August date.

The project engages the entire fifth grade student body of Cureton Elementary of Alum Rock, San Jose in thinking about what makes their community visually unique. To compare and contrast different community visual vocabularies, the third graders at Hawaii Preparatory Academy also participated in the initial textile pattern workshops. First students at both schools drew radial textile patterns using markers, pencils and tracing papers. These images were posted on VoiceThread, an online freeware communication site, where the students from both schools commented on the textile patterns they created. They either typed in or voice recorded their comments to the other students. These initial marker compositions, became digitally printed fabrics; the 12 yards of fabrics were installed at the Montalvo Arts Center’s Art Splash in April:  A portion of the fabric was cut into squares for the students to keep and to learn how to make an eco-friendly Japanese furoshiki wrapping carry-cloth. The radial pattern project done in marker was a way to introduce students to visual vocabularies and to the math involved in creating radial patterns – both main components of the second project: You Are Here Street Banner.  I wanted students to have the experience of creating a radial pattern design by hand before they experimented with digital tools.


Furoshiki - wrapping carry-cloth

Furoshiki – wrapping carry-cloth

The You Are Here Street Banner project started with a workshop on photography. The photo project challenged students to think more about community imagery.  Discussions about what constitutes unique community imagery started while students were creating the marker drawings.  Once they received cameras the students knew what community imagery was and were more focused on what they photographed.  They drew upon the themes of their textile exploration, such as food carts, fruit trees, VTA tracks, Calvary Cemetery and Peters Bakery.  Comparing and contrasting their drawing explorations with Hawaii students also prepared the Alum Rock students to have a deeper understanding of unique community imagery.


Work station image using software

Work station image using software

The San Jose students are currently going out into their neighborhoods sharing 32 single use cameras to photograph what they think represents the beauty and uniqueness of their neighborhoods. The students will each place one of their photographs into the freeware pattern tool Repper Pro to create unique textile patterns. Then, working in teams of four, they will design street banners from the photos and patterns they generated using both collage on paper and another freeware tool SumoPaint. The final collaborative compositions will be used to create seventeen 8×2 feet banners that will be hung from lamp posts along Alum Rock avenue: The resulting collaborative designs will carry the conversation about community out into the neighborhood via street banners.


Work station image using software

Work station image using software

The student technology training organization, Mouse Squad, has made a huge difference in getting the lab set up for my projects at Cureton. Last year it took me two hours to get animation still images on to all the computers and then half of the computers crashed during the project. This year, I came to the lab and the Mouse Squad team had all the files set up and ready to go and I have not seen a computer crash yet. The tools I am introducing the Cureton’s students to are new. They are using online freeware tools: Repper Pro by Studio Ludens in Netherlands, Voicethread for peer commenting and Google docs to write pre- and post- assessments.  I would say that up to last year, students in Cureton Alum Rock were not computer literate. They had not used these tools before but through my project I introduced these tools to them in a fun context and they have been learning well.

These two schools, Cureton Elementary of Alum Rock and Hawaii Preparatory Academy, were selected for several reasons; I selected the San Jose school because I have been teaching art multimedia projects there for the past five years and I have a long working relationship with the teachers and principal. I enjoy their open collaborative spirit. This community on the edge of Silicon Valley still echoes an agricultural past and the students are not as exposed to the technology industries that drive the rest of the Valley. I feel it is important that I expose them to art-technology projects. I selected the Hawaii school because I met the teacher over the summer in an educator technology training workshop and we spoke of working together. Also, having family from Hawaii, I could easily interpret cultural reference for the San Jose students. The project I conduct is about process, experimentation and collaboration, both among the students and the educators. Therefore, it is really important that I know I can work with the teachers and administrators at each school site either locally or remotely.
Through this project I hope children have a strong positive experience of being active creators and curators of culture rather than passive consumers of mass culture.  Exposure to the synergy of art and technology, which drives Silicon Valley, hopefully will excite these students to continue the pursuit of learning to use technologies’ tools, explore art and possibly a creative career.
Interview 5: Where is the inspiration coming from for You Are Here Street Banner project?

COT: Last summer I was inspired by both my digital textile explorations with the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles and by my experience as a Merit Scholar at the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College.  The fusionwearsv project I designed for the museum invited the public to reflect on what visually represents the Silicon Valley in photos and patterns.  These images were expressed in textiles. The result of this project was the collaborative installation TECHStyleSoftWEAR: Surface & Shape that I brought to life with fashion designer Colleen Quen and environment/furniture designer, Rick Lee. At the same time I was going through an educator training program at Foothill College, the KCI Merit scholar program that focuses on innovative use of technology and teaching practices in the K-12 classroom. I began to think it would be really exciting to integrate my learning in a project that invited children to reflect on community using digital tools and get their ideas up on banners in their neighborhood.

Interview 5: What is your background in art? Also, briefly explain your interest in arts, education and community works.

COT: I have a BA in Design from Stanford University. In the 1990’s I freelanced for start ups creating icons, cursors, illustrations, interface design and simple animations. My clients ranged from computer game, educational curriculum media to large software companies. Since having children, I have become more interested in installation art and arts education. I see a great need to bring arts and collaborative projects to schools. As we face more and more budget cuts to public schools, there are fewer opportunities for children to experience the innate synergy of arts with the other disciplines they are learning. I find that I work best when I am doing both community art education and my own work; one informs and fuels the other. I also come from a family of creative individuals and am fortunate to have been nurtured to express myself, seek knowledge and experiment through art. I hope to instill in children the knowledge that they can problem solve through creativity and artistic expression.

Interview 5: How do you raise the necessary funds for your projects? Do you collaborate with anyone else? Do you have any other project/s in hand?

COT: I began applying for grants in earnest in 2009. I found that taking the free fall arts grant writing classes with the Foundation Center very useful in learning about grants. I usually start by creating a shell of a website for the project and identifying a fiscal sponsor with whom to partner. I also investigate grants that align with what I’m trying to create. I have worked with education foundations and museums on grant projects. I have also begun to explore crowd funding through Kickstarter. I was unsuccessful in my first attempt at using that site but it was a great learning experience and I will try it again. Often, I begin my projects building from a smaller scale and work toward the larger scale components as I raise the funds. I have been fortunate raising funds through grants and, in one case, through award money at the end of the project.

The other projects I have in the works all involve technology, art and education. I am consulting with the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles to create a digital textile lab/education space. I am working on a Target Arts Grant at Horace Mann Elementary where we are creating a large tapestry of recycled materials I am also beginning to formulate a collaborative student art project for the next academic school year called Slot Shelters. I hope to submit it for the 01SJ 2012 Biennial as it will be designed to take form as both online Google Sketch Up structures and as large scale slot cards to be assembled in public spaces.

Interview 5: Anything else you would like to add?

COT: I think art, like science begins with questions and when completed, inspires another series of questions. Art invites us to think and feel. I have been very fortunate to work with organizations and educators who are willing to take risks and begin with questions rather than answers. I would like to thank the following people: Arlene U. Illa and Kelsey Rothrock of Cureton Elementary in Alum Rock San Jose, Mike Hu and Jana Weber of Stevens Creek Elementary in Cupertino, Cobey Doi of Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Island of Hawaii and Karen Tseng, Wendy Chew and Steven Chew of Meyerholz Elementary in Cupertino. Special thanks to Jane Przybysz, the former Executive Director of the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles for her vision and absolute faith in giving me the fusionwearsv collaborative project to design and shape. I am grateful to the MERIT program at The Krause Center of Innovation directed by Rushton Hurley under the guidance of Steven McGriff. In this program I grew as an arts educator and learned tools to expand the scope of my art collaborative experiments beyond the Bay Area. Finally, I would like to thank The Donor Circle for the Arts of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation , KCI and the Alum Rock Education Foundation for taking the leap of faith and funding the You Are Here Street Banner project.


Thank you for sharing your artistic experience with Interview 5.

If you know someone that should be interviewed, contact Pantea Karimi:

Comments are closed.