Welcome to MindSpace!
MindSpace is a space committed to a meeting of minds through sharing, and by sharing we hope to form a strong sense of community that all can rely on for joy, support, and aspiration.
By Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education
Summer is just around the corner, and there is no better time to take advantage of the lineup of cool classes we have scheduled than the warm months of Santa Monica!
Our Summer Session starts June 17 and you can register online now for many classes! We continually offer the most popular classes to our community, and summer is the best time to try out new classes or continue with courses that meet your needs. (You can view classes online or download the PDF of our Summer Class Schedule.)
Our new classes include Stress Relief Techniques, Legal Aspects of Business, and Blockchain courses (see Michelle King column in this issue of Sound Bites). Although Blockchain might sound complicated, it’s a hot new technology for business that can help your enterprise immeasurably. Read the descriptions of these specialized courses to get greater insight into Blockchain.
Other returning courses worth highlighting include Fashion Tech Pack I, a one-of-a-kind workshop that introduces designers to the nitty-gritty details of the fashion industry and the skills it requires; Sewing Machine Bootcamp — with machines provided in class — which teaches sewing basics that will pave the way for more challenging future classes to complete your sewing repertoire; QuickBooks Certificate Series (QuickBooks I & II), which have been expanded into full-day workshops to teach you more; and our unique AVID Media Composer Exam Prep Workshop, which includes hands-on practice for the exam. (AVID is the industry standard when it comes to professional editing of feature films, documentaries, and all forms of broadcast or streaming digital media.)
For those interested in jumpstarting their language skills, we have French Pronunciation Workshop, our very popular Beginning Spanish Level I & Level II, and Italian for Continuing Students as well as Italian for Travelers, which will get you ready for survival Italian in four compact Thursday classes.
And all of these wonderful classes are just a sampler of what we have on tap in summer.
Remember, you can browse our classes and register online or download the PDF of our Summer Class Schedule. You can also call (310) 434-3400 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or more information.
We look forward to seeing you this summer!
Lee Broda has many voices – as an actor, film and television writer, film producer, songwriter and poet. And she has honed her skill and artistry as a poet in SMC Community Ed poetry instructor Betzi Richard’s classes – which helped her shape her just released book of verse, “Whispers from the Moon.”
Even The Walls Cry Your Name
even the walls cry your name
they miss you.
they miss the pictures I hid,
the ones that told our story,
shoved into a drawer
with all our memories
that are still alive,
breathing inside of me,
clinging to every cell,
every room still smells of you,
refusing to fade.
this house was once our home,
now it is a stranger—
cold, unfamiliar and distant,
just like you.
A native of Israel, she moved to the U.S. after her military service in 2006, having already performed as a dancer and actor in her home country. In Los Angeles she danced professionally, paying her way through L.A. City College’s Theater Academy.
That led to a career in acting, writing, casting and producing, and in 2015 she founded her own film production company, LB Entertainment, which specializes in developing, financing, and producing independent films. LB Entertainment has produced more than 30 feature films, including Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter (starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder); The Trust (Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood); and The Forgiven (Forest Whitaker, Eric Bana) and Matthew Heineman’s A Private War, which was nominated for two Golden Globes Awards in 2019. LB Entertainment’s movies have premiered in the world’s top film festivals including Sundance, Venice, Toronto, Tribeca, SXSW, BFI, and New York Film Festival and have been distributed worldwide, garnering international recognition and many awards.
The Santa Monica resident has been writing poetry since she was 12, but became more serious about it in her early 20s. About two years ago, she enrolled for the first time in Richardson’s poetry class, and is currently taking her fourth class.
“I had started working on a poetry book, and I felt I needed to step up my game,” she said. “The class keeps me on my toes. I get exposed to new poets and I work with Betzi privately outside the classroom to edit and refine my work.”
The classes have helped her develop her skills and gain confidence as a poet.
“I like that we get to workshop our poems in class and get feedback,” she said. “And our homework gets my creative juices flowing. And we get exposed to different poets. For example, I discovered Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Wistawa Szymborska, and I probably never would have heard of her if not for Betzi’s class.”
“Whispers from the Moon,” published in December, includes about 100 poems, which she describes as “visceral prose touching on the inspiring quality of love and the sometime-ugliness of relationships that can break us to pieces. The book covers heartbreak, loss, insecurity, love, family, and explores a true relationship to self.”
I promise to honor
the woman in me,
even when poison pours from her lips,
searing holes of insecurity
into her beautiful skin
I will embrace her deeply,
even when regret
and past failures
on the walls of her mind
I will love her fully,
even when her heart
shrinks in fear
and shuts me out
I promise to put her first,
heal her wounds of love,
the burn marks on her soul
from far too many disappointments
I will water her with light,
feed her kindness,
kiss her scars,
bathe her with love,
until death do us part
“As a poet, Lee Broda is a ‘natural,'” Richardson said. “She was already in tune with her own voice, connected to and speaking from the depth of her own experience, and aware of her contemporaries, other influential poets of the moment. Toward her own poetry Lee was strongly self-motivated; she worked hard; she sought out, listened to, and incorporated objective feedback—and the result is a beautiful first book of poems, potentially the beginning of a life-time of serious, evolving poetic accomplishment.”
Broda said she has also been inspired by themes of women’s empowerment, the MeToo movement, nature and travel.
She hopes to release her second book of poetry, “Facing North,” at the beginning of 2020.
“I write every day,” she said, “and life evolves and shifts, which influences my work and voice as an artist constantly. I want to see how this new year unfolds, before I’m ready to release the new book and share it with the world.”
Adrian Harewood has been in the finance field ever since receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA. But now he is working toward a dramatic career shift into the nascent but growing commercial drone pilot industry.
Harewood is among the 15 students in SMC Extension/Community Ed’s first Commercial Drone Pilot Training program, which was launched last fall. The program is taught in three modules: Preparation for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote Pilot in Command Exam; hands-on flight training; and a 120-hour externship at a commercial drone company. All 15 students passed the FAA exam and all are currently serving their externships.
(The next session of Commercial Drone Pilot Training begins March 9.)
“I’ve always had an interest in aeronautical engineering and I wanted to take a look at an infant but burgeoning field for a career change,” Harewood said. “I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk, and there’s a fun element to piloting drones.”
Harewood is right to say the opportunities for drone pilot careers are growing. The Federal Aviation Administration projects the commercial, small drone fleet is set to grow from 110,000-plus in 2017 to almost 452,000 in 2022. The number of commercial remote pilots is set to increase from 73,000-plus in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022.
Typical of a job opportunity was a recent listing on indeed.com for a drone pilot with 0 to 3 years experience paying $30 to $40 an hour as a contract worker. Barry Brennen, instructor of the course at SMC, said most drone pilot jobs work on a contract basis.
Brennan, owner of Redondo Beach-based Flying Lion, Inc., said his first class at SMC was diverse, ranging in age from 18 to 64, with one-third women and several couples.
“Students are motivated before they get to us,” Brennan said. “There’s a high level of interest so the class has worked out really well.”
Brennan believes one of the reasons the field is growing so fast is that the applications for drone use are increasing rapidly. Among those who use drones are law enforcement agencies, property developers, energy companies, nature preserves and environmentalists, cinema, agriculture and more. In Los Angeles, he said the demand for drones “has gone up dramatically in the past few months” related to the recent, devastating wildfires, particularly in the insurance industry.
Student Harewood has been doing his externship with Sky Ladder Drones in Torrance. Recently a group of externs went out with company owner Steven Katz on a building inspection job of a downtown Los Angeles building. Harewood was also part of a team that mapped the 100-acre Point Dume Club community of Malibu, which lost homes in the recent Woolsey Fire.
But Harewood, who runs his own financial consulting practice and who says he is not “quitting his day job yet,” hopes to turn his piloting skills into work with a nonprofit. He’s still not sure in which direction, but noted that environmental organizations and governments are using drones for biological research and preservation, anti-poaching activities in Africa, and more.
Brennan, meanwhile, has enjoyed not only running his business but also teaching drone piloting.
“I just love the teaching aspect of it – particularly the ah-ha moment when the students get it,” he said.
Katz, Sky Ladder owner, says the SMC externs working with him “are well trained, professional and excited to be learn in the field.”
Brennan sees another advantage to commercial drone pilot training.
“Drones are going to be the way to get people excited about aviation,” he said, noting that the industry is facing a shortage of trained commercial pilots. “It’s a great gateway to get into flying.”
From Santa Monica to Singapore and from San Francisco to Switzerland, SMC Extension’s online courses are growing increasingly popular.
Offered through a partnership with Ed2Go, SMC Extension’s classes fall into two categories: creative/personal enrichment (called Fundamentals) and career training. In the former category, registrations grew from 186 in 2016 to 602 in 2018, a more than 200 percent increase over two years. Career training registrations went up from four in 2016 to 26 in 2018, a six-fold increase.
“As people get busier and as traffic, not just in Los Angeles but in areas throughout the world, becomes more congested, online courses offer people an efficient and flexible way of upgrading their skills or taking classes for enrichment,” said Michelle King, SMC’s Director of Career & Contract Education.
In the Fundamentals, or enrichment, category, each class can be completed in six weeks and usually contain 12 lessons representing 24 hours of instruction, King noted. The Career Training Program is open enrollment and self-paced, lasting three to six months. A number of the topics or programs are bundled to create a more comprehensive training program.
“Basically,” King said, “you can design your own curriculum.”
Students from all over the world take the online courses through SMC Extension. A hefty percentage is from the Los Angeles area, but include many other portions of the state, from San Diego to San Francisco.
“What gets interesting is we get 10 percent of our online students outside of California in places like New Jersey, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and Texas, and then further out we have students in such areas British Columbia, Canada; New Zealand; Switzerland; and the United Kingdom,” King noted.
The most popular courses represent a range of interests from creative to technical, from writing fiction to writing code. And there are some surprises on the popular class list, including A to Z Grant Writing, Accounting Fundamentals, Speed Spanish, Introduction to SQL (Structured Query Language, which is used in programming and designed for managing data), Medical Terminology Series, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Introduction to Interior Design, Introduction to Photoshop, and Beginning Writer’s Workshop.
Another surprise for its popularity is a class called “Singapore Math Strategies.” However, when looking at the data it became clearer why it was so popular – it seems a private California school had all their instructors sign up for the class.
King said that SMC Extension will continue to beef up its marketing efforts, which have already proven to increase online course registrations.
“We are always looking for the best ways to deliver career training and lifelong learning to our community, both in Santa Monica and the world,” she said. “Our successful partnership with Ed2Go is one of those ways and we will work hard to expand our reach.”
For information and registration for Fundamentals (enrichment) online courses, go to ed2go.com/smce. For Career Training, the link is careertraining.ed2go.com/smce.
If you’re already thinking about what you might get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day this year, consider the story of Sean Gehrke and his wife Colleen McKinney.
Sean Gehrke and wife Colleen McKinney.
Sean wanted to surprise Colleen for her birthday last September and reached out to SMC Community Education to ask for a summer schedule of classes, whose cover is graced with a photo she had taken and entered into the annual Student Photo Contest. The image did not win the contest but Alice Meyering, SMC Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education, liked it so much she used it for the summer catalog cover. Sean had it framed and presented to her for her birthday.
“I was so surprised, since it was not something I was expecting at all. He kept the secret very well!” Colleen said. “I thought it was a sweet gesture and very thoughtful. I know how hard it can be to come up with meaningful gifts.”
Sean and Colleen, currently Seattle residents, lived in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2015. She was getting a master’s in public policy at USC and he was working on his doctorate in education, also at USC. He is the director of the Office of Education Assessment at the University of Washington and she works for the nonprofit Center for Good Food Purchasing. They have a 1-year-old daughter Cora.
Colleen said a few years ago she bought a DSLR camera and enrolled in Larry Jones’ photography class at SMC Community Ed to start learning more about the technical aspects of composition.
“I loved practicing what I was learning,” she said, “as I explored the wide variety of landscapes around Los Angeles, from Joshua Tree to the poppies in Lancaster to Malibu and the urban scenes around central L.A. where I lived and worked for four years.”
Beyond being a romantic gift, fitting for Valentine’s Day, what else did it demonstrate?
“Since I started teaching myself photography,” Colleen said, “Sean has been my biggest supporter and through this gift I could tell he was proud that someone else was excited about one of my photographs too.”
Thomas Gin is a man without borders and yet a man who has grown up ever aware of a border.
SMC Community Ed’s new mosaic arts instructor – who begins in March – crosses the U.S.-Mexico border every weekend when he travels from Los Angeles to an arts co-op he started in the poor Mexicali neighborhood he grew up in to teach mosaic art.
He has brought in artists from all over the world to work on a mile-long mural on a border wall separating Mexicali and Calexico – as well as other nonprofit arts projects.
He risked major injury – and indeed was tear-gassed – by climbing to the top of that same border fence, which was being torn down for construction of a new barrier, to try to save the murals that had taken the international team of artists three years to create.
Gin moved from Mexico to Los Angeles at the age of 23. He gained an interest in mosaic art when he remodeled his home in Mexicali and included many stylistic designs with the material he had available. During the years that followed, he made numerous mosaics from recyclable materials.
He was formally taught the craft of mosaic by Carmelo Fiannaca, who taught several years for Community Ed before recently returning to his native Sicily. Fiannaca selected Gin to be his successor, and Gin will teach Introduction to Mosaic Art and Mosaic Art II beginning March 2.
“I learned a lot from Carmelo,” Gin said. “He’s the best.”
The birth of Gin as a community arts activist was serendipitous – and involved mosaic art. In 2013 he repaired a pothole in the street of his childhood neighborhood and covered it with a mosaic. When he received a positive reception from the neighborhood, he realized the power that the art of mosaic has to create social change in a community.
He then founded the nonprofit, non-governmental organization El Arte Salva: Proyecto Calle 13 to transform his childhood neighborhood, the barrio Santa Clara in Mexicali, one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
In 2016 he transformed his home, just steps away from the border fence, into an artist residency that has attracted artists from Italy, Tijuana, Mexico City, and UC Berkeley.
In 2017 the group focused on painting murals on the border fence between Calexico and Mexicali. The destruction of that fence in 2018 led to Gin’s dramatic effort last year to save the 35 murals.
As reported by Voice of San Diego, Gin had tried to physically drag one of the pieces across the border to save some of the murals. When that didn’t work, he climbed on top of another one and refused to come down. A La Crónica photojournalist captured the tense moment.
When Gin wouldn’t come down, Border Patrol officials fired tear gas in his direction, which caused him to lose his grip – but he managed to avoid falling off completely. Officials then tried once more to talk things out with Gin. They promised to meet with him soon to see how Border Patrol could help save the murals.
Gin agreed, and climbed off. In the end, only one of 35 pieces was saved – the mural of Aztec leader Cuauhtémoc by local artists Pablo Castañeda and Eduardo Kintero. The piece is currently displayed in the art collective’s studio just a couple steps away from its original location.
The estimated $18-million project replaced just over two miles of a 1990s 12-foot barrier made of steel Vietnam War-era military aircraft landing mats with 30-foot bollards — poles placed close together to restrict entry but allow people on either side to see through.
In February 2018, Gin established La Joyita, a co-operative gallery that offers classes in the arts and hosts free events for the public. With about 50 students altogether, ranging in age from 5 to 80 years old, La Joyita has a gallery and performance stage and offers classes in mosaic, painting, sculpture, drawing, dance and more. Students from the University of Mexicali, UC Berkeley and USC help out at La Joyita, Gin said. And La Joyita participants help out the community by painting houses and curbs, filling potholes and more.
Gin has been teaching mosaic-making classes every other month at Stained Glassed Supplies in Pasadena since 2017. He has also taught mosaic-making workshops at Centro Estatal de Las Artes (CEART) in Mexicali.
El Arte Salva: Proyecto Calle 13 has received bi-national media attention from numerous agencies such as La Voz de la Frontera, The Voice of San Diego and TV Azteca. In late 2018, the artists of El Arte Salva: Proyecto Calle 13 and Thomas Gin were awarded “Artists of the Year” by the media agency La Crónica in Mexicali.
Arlene Weinstock knew what she wanted to be in the 7th grade – an art teacher – but it took her 30 years to fulfill that ambition. Weinstock, an award-winning artist who has taught Colored Pencil Techniques at SMC Community Ed for eight years, took a circuitous route to the classroom.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Weinstock pursued art by earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University. But upon graduation, she was unable to find work as an art teacher and embarked on a three-decades career in corporate America – in sales, marketing, design, product development and IT. Eventually, she learned programming for creating websites and started her own business. All the while she was creating art on the side.
In the early 1990s, she took Colored Pencil classes and has specialized in that medium, as well as mixed media, since then.
She earned Signature and experimental Signature honors from the Colored Pencil Society of America. She shows her work locally and has been juried into national and international art exhibitions. Her piece February is published in “The Best of Colored Pencil 4” and January Dusk is published in “Colored Pencil Signature.” Known for her colored pencil landscapes, she is also an accomplished pet portraitist and photographer.
What do you like about teaching Colored Pencil Techniques at SMC Community Education?
I am energized by the students. Adults who come to art class are enthusiastic and want to learn. Each person comes with a unique level of experience and innate skill. I get to see colored pencil beginners get more comfortable with the medium and begin to create work using their newly developed skills. This allows me to work individually to help each student discover his or her direction. Continuing students are welcome to return to the class and work on projects of their own choosing. I provide individual guidance for these students as they work to create finished art.
What kinds of students do you get at SMC Community Ed?
My students have ranged in age from 18 to 93. I’ve learned that these adult students are interested in learning how to make artwork, not just have a good time playing with art materials. By teaching techniques for using the colored pencils, my focus is on developing skills with the medium, not on creating finished artwork – the students do that on their own at home. This leaves lots of room for experimenting and making mistakes (the only way to learn anything is to make mistakes). As adults we get in the habit of trying to get things right, but watching a student push through the need to get things right and just try (make a mess, do it wrong) is great fun for me.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Really this is too hard to answer. Here are a few:
Leonardo for breaking all the rules and showing how to paint what he really saw.
Turner, especially his later works.
Manet for his sense of design.
Monet for his willingness to push through to get to the pure color in his sight.
Van Gogh, Bernard, Villiard and other Post-Impressionists.
Hopper for the quiet emotionality (and composition, color and draftsmanship).
Rothko for his color, of course.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
A day without a disaster.
What is one of the best compliments you ever received?
A friend once said of me that I drive like I’m trying to get to where I’m going.
What was the last picture you took with your phone?
The intense color of a tree with yellow leaves against a blue sky
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I did the AIDS Ride two years in a row. It changed my life.
What books are on your nightstand?
Here are some recent reads I really enjoyed:
“Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind” by Harari
“The Judgement of Paris” by Ross King
“The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman
Is there anything you would like to add?
My classes are serious investigations into how to make art. An introduction into color theory is part of the class. Students also experience how to look at artwork and make judgments about what works and what doesn’t. We have fun and we do serious work. It is best to have some drawing experience before taking the class.
Talk about a radical career change. Jackline Daneshrad worked as a chemical engineer for Intel – after getting bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and French – when in 1992 she decided to become a health and fitness professional.
In the many years since making that dramatic career change, she has taught an amazing array of classes at SMC Community Education and other venues, among them Total Body Workout, Cardio Salsa, Stretch and Release, Mat Pilates, and Barre. She even taught Chair Salsa in rehabilitation facilities to those who are recovering from strokes or injuries from accidents or other causes.
“Before coming to my class, some of them wouldn’t respond to stimuli, but then they responded to the beat of the music,” Daneshrad said. “It’s very fulfilling for me.”
Daneshrad has been teaching fitness classes at SMC Community Ed for 17 years, and also at other venues, including the Bay Club in Pacific Palisades for 19 years and its Santa Monica facility for the last year, the Jonathan Club and Malibu Senior Center among other venues. She is also a personal trainer specializing in Strength, Core, Toning; Functional Training; Flexibility; and Balance and Injury Rehabilitation.
She holds a Group Exercise Teacher and Personal Training Certifications from ACE (American Council on Exercise) and many other certifications and workshops in related fields.
I love teaching at SMC Community Ed because I get a good cross-section of the Westside population. Not only have I built a strong following but I also get to meet new students each semester and receive very good feedback on students’ progress, which is very fulfilling.
My classes are inclusive of all ages. I have young adults, college students, professionals, business people, young retirees and homemakers. Some students drive 45 minutes to get to my classes. While teaching, keeping in mind that the students are at various fitness levels, I offer modifications for each exercise to accommodate all levels.
A perfect day for me is not to have a very early morning class, having my morning cup of coffee while checking my emails, going to my classes and clients, and hearing that I gave a great workout, that my students are very happy and had fun in the process!
One student told me that I changed her life through my classes. Apparently, she was seeing a physical therapist three times a week and after taking my classes regularly she didn’t need to go to PT anymore. She saved a lot of money and time. Not only did she become stronger, she met other students that became her good friends. Her social life is much improved as she had lost her husband recently. Her last quote was “Your seriousness of purpose, professionalism and care for your student/client is commendable and second to none.”
What was the last picture you took with your phone?
I took a picture of a red colored succulent plant yesterday after I voted. That is precious.
The Good Fight, A Perfect Life by Danielle Steele, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and Shape magazine.
When I was going to school my passion was chemistry and I excelled in it. As a chemical engineer working for Intel Corp., I was promoted twice in four years through two pregnancies. When we moved to L.A., I followed my passion for fitness. I love teaching! Every day when I teach it feels as if I am enjoying my hobby rather than working which makes it fun for me and my students.
Sarah Olim is SMC Community Ed’s piano instructor par excellence. She teaches One-on-One Piano throughout the year, to all kinds of students – all ages (from 5 years old and up) and all levels, from beginner to advanced.
She teaches the students what they want to learn, whether it is pop, classical, jazz or other styles.
Olim has a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Piano Pedagogy and has done graduate coursework in music at California State University, Los Angeles.
She has taught piano and music all over the Los Angeles area, including Music Fundamentals for Adults (with an emphasis on the skill of reading and understanding musical notation) at SMC Community Ed from 1984 to 1986, 1991 to 1999, and 2006 to 2015. Her One-on-One classes – which are held at the beautiful SMC Performing Arts Center/Madison campus in central Santa Monica – have been offered for about two years.
Among the other places she has taught are University of Judaism, Los Angeles Pierce College and Pasadena City College.
I enjoy showing children and adults how to play the piano and for those who have some experience, other ways of reading and interpreting the music. I’ve had many adults tell me they like having the skills to play as it calms them down at the end of the day. Teaching also involves sharing ideas, so I sometimes pick up ideas from the student and even songs from the children.
It’s also nice when I have a student return after a long while. I had one lady who just recently signed up for the private lessons. Turned out she had had a group class with me in the past and at that time had asked me to play for her 50th Birthday party. That was 25 years ago! So, it took 25 years, but she came back.
I like most styles of music including classical, jazz and classic rock. Favorite composers would be Debussy and Ravel along with Beethoven and Chopin.
A day where all students are prepared by having practiced whatever they are working on so that we can move on to new material with new skills.
I’ve received applause at the end of adult group classes many times. I’ve also had parents come up and tell me how much their child enjoyed their class with me.
I do a lot of volunteering for various organizations including ushering at The Broad Stage (SMC Performing Arts Center) and other theatre venues. I also help the Los Angeles Ballet with the boutique at their performances.
I videotaped a student playing so that he could hear his performance. I then used it for another student who was learning the same composition to get a comparison between the way she played the piece vs. what she heard the other student do.
Moved to Los Angeles.
Sarah Olim will teach several One-on-One Piano classes in the Winter Session.
Decades after they were friends in a junior high school in Lucerne, Switzerland, Carmelo Fiannaca recently reunited, via email, with Juan Carlos Serrano – thanks to SMC Community Ed.
Spaniard Serrano, who now lives in Barcelona, left a note for his old friend Fiannaca – an SMC mosaic art instructor and award winning and internationally exhibited artist – after reading an article about Fiannaca on SMC Community Ed’s blog, SMC Mindspace.
The note, which was forwarded to Fiannaca and was written in German (Lucerne is in German-speaking Switzerland), said, “You will not believe it, but this is Juan from Lucerne. . . (We) were very big fans of the group KISS and had common school friends. . . I would be very happy to hear from you again and get back in touch.”
“It’s amazing,” Fiannaca said about hearing from his former classmate. “I was just blown away.”
Serrano found the Mindspace blog on Fiannaca by doing a Google search. The blog entry comes up fourth in a Google search of the artist.
The two were in junior high school together from about the ages of 12 to 15 roughly 40 years ago, in the mid- to late-70s. Although Fiannaca was born in Agrigento Sicily, Italy, his family moved to Switzerland when he was young.
Fiannaca said he has been corresponding by email and phone with Serrano and plans to visit him in 2019 in Barcelona.
“I remember him to be a shy teenager,” Fiannaca said of Serrano. “He sounded very confident on the phone and he has really changed as a adult.”
“The really unbelievable thing is I’ve never been to Barcelona and I’m the biggest Gaudi fan, and my work is like Gaudi,” he said, referring to the Spanish architect whose work – which often incorporates mosaic art – is found all over Barcelona.
Fiannaca, whose commissioned work can be seen throughout America (including John Wayne’s former estate), has been teaching mosaic art at SMC Community Ed for seven years. Though he plans to return to Sicily this month to buy a house and eventually create an art and cooking retreat, he said he loves doing the course so much he will return to Los Angeles twice a year to teach. His Introduction to Mosaic Art and Mosaic Art IIclasses both began Oct. 20.
Fiannaca has been creating art from a very young age. By 10 years old, he gained attention through his comics and stories, whose illustrations showed advanced abilities in art. During a summer trip to Sicily, Carmelo discovered the Cathedral of Monreale in Palermo where he became inspired to explore the color, texture and surfaces of mosaic art.
He received his degree from Plattenleger Verband in Lucerne, Switzerland in design, restoration, fabrication and installation. Carmelo continued his studies through a scholarship from the National Art Association and later ended up at SMC, where he received his degree from the School of Design, Art and Architecture.
The path that led Fiannaca to SMC’s art school was actually a musical one. A guitarist, he came to Los Angeles in 1993 to study at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Afterwards, he started playing in clubs and bars in Hollywood with a band called Big Muckamuck, whose lead signer was Tequila, a well-known vocalist.
“That’s what kept me here,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is fun.’ But on the side, I was making mosaic tables.”
Fiannaca is looking forward to reuniting in person with Serrano.
“I think there are no coincidences in life,” Fiannaca said. “Once a situation like this unravels you have to explore it. I can’t wait to sit with him in Barcelona and have a glass of wine and some tapas over a nice conversation about our lives.”