November 19, 2008
Rebuilding lives, one broken tile at a time
(Page 2 - Previous Page)In April 2007, she hosted a social gathering and mosaic workshop at her Encino home to raise funds and awareness. The same month she offered her first workshop in the community room of the Broadway Village II Apartments in South Los Angeles, a 50-unit building for very low-income families operated by the nonprofit organization, Beyond Shelter.
The workshop was an immediate hit. Since then, up to 35 people, including children off track from their year-round school schedules, have been coming regularly, every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and occasionally on Saturdays.
"I wish they had it every day because I keep waiting and waiting for Friday," said seventh-grader Quaneisha McFadden, 12, who attends whenever she can.
And new people keep appearing. Four months ago, for instance, Jose Morales, 34, showed up ostensibly to accompany a friend. He quickly became a regular, completing five pieces featured in the exhibit. One is an intricate Aztec calendar, inspired, he said, by watching people dancing on Olvera Street. He also has two mirrors, complex and striking shapes that he designed and cut, covering them primarily in mirrored mosaics.
"This opened the door to a different period of my life. I feel more happy and peaceful doing something with my hands," Morales said.
In fall 2007, representatives from the James M. Wood Community Center in Skid Row, part of the nonprofit Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Housing Corp., offered Alpert space for a second workshop. This group, up to 35 adults, has been meeting regularly on Monday afternoons.
Chad Sperandeo, 39, who has been living in a Skid Row apartment for two years -- "to recuperate my life" he said -- is one of the participants. Before his life just fell apart, as he described it, he had done painting, sculpture and theater, and had even been accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago but couldn't raise the tuition.
Now Piece by Piece, which he finds "therapeutic and meditative and communal," is helping him to reemerge as an artist. His creations include intricate light boxes, some made of sided serving trays turned upside down, as well as mosaicked mirrors and other objects, and his works sell for $300 to $1,200.
Sperandeo, who is also studying Kabbalah and considering conversion to Judaism, has become a passionate spokesman for Piece by Piece
Not everyone is a natural artist, but Alpert believes that various levels of talent can be tapped or acquired. And while she envisioned the project as one in which residents could learn skills and earn money, she didn't anticipate the transformational potential of this work.
Eutiquio Mejia, 28, for example, came from Mexico in 2001 to seek a better life but ended up in a Skid Row apartment. He began coming to workshops a year ago. "He was depressed. I couldn't get a word out of him," Alpert said.
But he learned how to mosaic and has become one of the most prolific artists, even designing a mosaic panel of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which was auctioned off as part of a fundraiser by St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach for $3,000 and donated back to the hospital.
"This has helped me a lot economically and it helps me forget some of my problems," Mejia said in Spanish, translated by Alpert, who speaks the language fluently. It has also given him confidence. He now attends workshops twice a week at both locations, helping set up and take down the rooms and also mentoring other participants.
Image: Original lightbox by Chad Sperandeo