Bridging Time and Perspectives: The Transformative Role of The Timeline at KSMoCA

“To me, history is a lens through which we can view and interpret past events to enhance our understanding of the present and to forge a path towards a more equitable future. It’s about recognizing the multitude of perspectives that make up the tapestry of America’s past, not just the predominant white narrative that has been long emphasized.”

Amanda Larriva

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Museum of Contemporary Art (KSMoCA) is a contemporary art museum and social practice art project located within the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, a Pre K – 5th grade public school in  Northeast Portland, OR. It was founded in 2014 by Portland State University professors Lisa Jarrett and Harrell Fletcher.

Laura Glazer, program manager at KSMoCA, explaining PSU students about Timeline at the entrance of KSMoCA in Fall 2023, photo taken by Midori Yamanaka, courtesy of KSMoCA.

One of the standout features at the entrance of KSMoCA is The Timeline, a dynamic exhibit that greets visitors and community members with the rich history of the school community. This piece, part of the permanent collection at KSMoCA, was collaboratively created by Ms. Amanda Larriva, a dedicated kindergarten teacher, along with students and other community members. Ms. Larriva, with her profound understanding of educational dynamics and historical narratives, emphasizes the significance of this installation. She believes that grasping the continuum of past events is crucial not only for understanding human interactions, but also for recognizing our collective potential to shape a better world.

Dr MLK Jr School was the first school in the nation to change its name in honor of Dr. King. This timeline tells the history of the student-led name change initiative and major events in the history of the school.

Midori Yamanaka: Could you tell us about your role in creating The Timeline at KSMoCA and who you collaborated with on this project?

Ms. Amanda Larriva: The Timeline was a collective effort. Alongside Melody, who was a teacher here at the time, and Nancy, our school secretary, we spearheaded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. This project began serendipitously when we discovered an old photograph from the time our school was renamed, which inspired us. Armed with a large box filled with numerous historical materials, we saw an opportunity to narrate our school’s legacy through The Timeline. It was a meticulous process of selecting events that reflected the diverse history and the evolving identity of our community.

Ms. Amanda Larriva kindly accepted my interview offer and talked about her passion with a smile, photo taken by Midori Yamanaka.

Midori: What does history mean to you, and why is it particularly attractive?

Ms. Larriva: To me, history is a lens through which we can view and interpret past events to enhance our understanding of the present and to forge a path towards a more equitable future. It’s about acknowledging the multitude of perspectives that make up the tapestry of America’s past, not just the predominant white narrative that has been long emphasized. In my classroom, we delve into various historical narratives, which helps my students appreciate the complexities of history and its role in shaping societal norms and values. We discuss the importance of diverse viewpoints, such as those from Black, Asian, and Indigenous communities, to enrich our understanding and appreciation of history.

Midori: It’s impressive that even kindergarteners are able to engage with these complex concepts. How do they react to such discussions?

Ms. Larriva: It’s truly inspiring. We often talk about similarities and differences, especially regarding people’s backgrounds and cultures. This opens a space for the children to comfortably discuss and embrace diversity. They learn to appreciate and vocalize their thoughts on race and culture in a supportive environment, which is crucial for building empathy and understanding from a young age.

Students working on their art piece collaborated with a guest artist, Mr Richard Brown, in Fall 2023, photo taken by Midori Yamanaka, courtesy of KSMoCA.

Midori: What are some key strategies for discussing history with young children?

Ms. Larriva: The approach varies significantly with age. For younger children, history might appear more abstract, yet they are incredibly receptive to stories and are keen observers of their surroundings. We encourage them to ask questions and express wonder about what they see. This method helps them make connections and begin to understand the broader narratives. As students progress to higher grades, they engage more concretely with timelines and the chronological order of historical events, which helps them gain a clearer understanding of how past events influence the present.

Midori: How do you decide what events or stories to include on The Timeline?

Ms. Larriva: There have been many significant events in our community over the past few years. For instance, in 2022, the school was on the verge of being shut down, which prompted community protests. Last fall, we experienced our first-ever district-wide teachers’ strike, followed by a school closure, among other events. Selecting which events to include requires a thoughtful process that considers which narratives will most effectively convey the lessons we aim to teach. We prioritize stories that are not only engaging but also prompt deeper inquiries into historical events. Interactive elements are crucial in this process, as they allow students to engage more thoroughly with the material through multimedia presentations or hands-on activities.

Midori: Is there another way to encourage students to engage with history?

Ms. Larriva: Absolutely! One effective strategy is ensuring that educators are equipped with the necessary tools and ideas to integrate the timeline into their teaching effectively. Regular updates and active participation from community members who have witnessed historical events provide authenticity and enrich the learning experience.

Midori: What are the challenges and rewards of updating The Timeline?

Ms. Larriva: The challenge lies in ensuring that The Timeline remains relevant and reflective of our community’s history and diversity. The reward is seeing how this tool helps foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of history among students and community members alike. We envision a collaborative process, perhaps involving regular meetings to review and catalog significant events with contributions from those who have firsthand knowledge.

A PSU student as a mentor, and a Dr MLK student as a mentee during mentorship program in Fall 2023, photo taken by Midori Yamanaka, courtesy of KSMoCA.

Many of the permanent collections at KSMoCA are collaborative works between nationally recognized artists and students of Dr. MLK School. Recently, three artists have been invited to KSMoCA every year. They collaborate with the children to create art and hold exhibitions. Through this process, the children get real exposure to art and artists, and over time the collection continues to grow. The students attending this school are truly living within the history of art that emerges from their community. Additionally, a mentorship program links PSU college students with elementary school students in one-to-one partnerships, fostering relationships and mutual learning through collaboration.

KSMoCA serves as a crossroads where the elementary school, the university (PSU), and the community intersect through the medium of art. This Timeline adds a new dimension of ‘time’ to this intersection, enriching and enhancing its appeal. Moreover, the activities of KSMoCA itself continue to become part of this new Timeline.

Ms Larriva, the interviewee on the left and Midori, the interviewer on the right in Ms. Larriva’s classroom in March 2024, photo taken by Midori Yamanaka.

Amanda Larriva :  (she/her) is a kindergarten teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in NE Portland. She has spent eight years at Dr. MLK School and has consistently worked in Title one schools, which are designated for improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged. Inspired by a historical photo of students celebrating the school’s renaming, Larriva, along with Nancy Rios-Araujo, the school secretary, and Melody, a teacher at the time, orchestrated the 50th-anniversary celebration of the school’s name change. This event led to the creation of the Timeline, now a permanent exhibit at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Museum of Contemporary Art (KSMoCA) in 2018.

Midori Yamanaka (she/her) is an artist and educator based in Portland, Oregon, with roots in a unique Japanese town by the Okhotsk Sea. Her early life, devoid of local art museums but rich in cultural uniqueness, sparked a deep interest in community and creativity. A graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Midori has pursued a career marked by socially engaged projects and cultural exchange, leading her into the field of Art and Social Practice. Now advancing her studies at Portland State University, her work bridges cultural gaps and fosters community engagement, reflecting her ongoing exploration of art’s role in societal connection.

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

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Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.

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