Glendale Community College student Manny Bracamonte got his start as an artist tagging on the streets in central Los Angeles. He was just 8 years old when he began mimicking the other kids in the neighborhood, painting graffiti on benches and walls.
Twenty years later, Bracamonte is still creating public art, but without the taint of gang life threatening to infiltrate his work.
Glendale Community College on Friday dedicated a mural designed and installed by Bracamonte in the food court in the lower level of the cafeteria. The mural, titled "Color Palette of Our Ancestors," was a collaboration between the food service and the art departments.
Standing 2 1/2 feet tall and 12 feet long, it is composed of three panels that recall Bracamonte's indigenous roots — he was born in El Salvador and moved to the United States as a child — and look ahead to his future.
"I am really humbled by it," Bracamonte said of the mural. "It still hasn't hit me. A lot of people come up to me and say, 'It inspires me,' and that is what I want — to inspire them to write, to read, to dance, to document. It is an inspiration to myself."
The Food Service Department has received plenty of positive feedback since the mural was installed this summer, said Nancy Jordon, food services manager.
"It definitely brings some color to it," Jordan said. "It brings life to a wall that was just blank."
It was art, Bracamonte said, that saved him from falling into a gang. As a student at Belmont High School, he connected with a teacher who helped him harness his passion and direct it down a more positive path.
"When I graduated high school I got accepted to the CalArts program over the summer," Bracamonte said. "I saw a whole different world, going to school, being in a dorm, focusing on work."
And he has continued to pursue his arts education, both in the classroom and as a community volunteer. He is a member of Glendale Community College's Studio Art Collective club and leads workshops in life drawing. He also leads a graffiti art class for underprivileged youth, teaching them that graffiti art can be done in a positive way.
Bracamonte is also an active member of Inner City Dwellers, a music and performance art group that creates artistic commentary about social issues facing urban Angelenos.
Being commissioned to do the mural has allowed Bracamonte to bring together his varying experiences as an artist, said Mark Gens, lab technician for the college's studio arts program.
"It is really a phenomenal experience because he had paths in front of him that were not great paths," Gens said. "He was able to resist being on the street and resist getting involved in gangs."
The collaboration on the mural created an opportunity for Bracamonte while also helping to beautify the campus, Gens added.
"It really shows that the art department can play a role not just in the college community, but in the community at large," Gens said. "We would love to have the opportunity to put up murals and art all over the college, and the city of Glendale for that matter."
The mural has already helped him secure additional work, Bracamonte said. And now, after balancing work and school, he is poised to transfer to a four-year arts program. He hopes to become an art teacher while pursuing personal art projects.
"[The art program] has helped me a lot, directing me, making me focus on a different level than what I am used to," he said.