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#CountMeIn Blog

The experience of walking the Lancaster Museum by myself during the stay-at-home mandate was surreal. My mind went back to a time when, as a young man, I visited the large sacred temples in Guatemala. Those walls were filled with so many wonderful art pieces and images larger than life, and the museum walls were the same, but with art created during the life of the #countmein project. The blueish color on the MOAH walls made me feel tranquil and calm. It wasn’t selected at random; the blue walls produce that calming effect on purpose, which is so needed in these difficult times.

I asked Robin Rosenthal to write some final thoughts about this project. She worked extremely hard to make this project a success and showed not only her leadership skills, but also her natural ability to approach and engage with the community. Robin inspired me to do the best I could in my small role, and she positively affected all of us involved in the project. She wrote:

Naturally I feel a bittersweet mix of emotions. Yes, there is sadness and disappointment that MOAH can’t just throw open the doors and have everyone in to see their beautiful contributions to the exhibit. At the same time I have so much gratitude for the amazing experiences of the last year—for the deeper understanding of this neighborhood surrounding the Museum; for its people, so many of whom I now count as friends; and for the pleasures of working with my fellow Artists-in-Residence and Artist Partners.”

Jane Szabo stepped in as the photographer for the #countmein project. Her task was to capture the faces and spirit of the community, and she did an amazing job. The subjects of the photographs, which were all taken before the stay-at-home orders went into effect, are full of hope and life. Her style is straightforward, and the way she captured the light and shadows is fabulous.

This pandemic changed the perspectives and lives of so many people in our community. Right now, life is not what we are used to, but it is our new normal. Jane’s photographs are indeed a testament of how the community was and how we all now look forward to beginning the healing process. I also asked Jane to share with me her final thoughts about working with the community.

“The photographic portraits I created for the series #countmein celebrate the people that live, work and visit the area surrounding MOAH in Lancaster, CA. It was a powerful experience to make frequent visits to the area, and explore businesses and venues I might never had the chance to enter if it weren’t for this project. I worked long days, meeting and photographing so many people during each visit. And as I drove home each evening, I was exhausted, but exhilarated by the spirit of the people I encountered. I send a hearty thank you to Lancaster and all the participants in this project that trusted me, shared their stories, and welcomed me in to their worlds. One day, social distancing will be a thing of the past, and I will happily return to Lancaster to further explore this welcoming city.”

As I walked past the art installations, my eye was drawn to a couple of the art pieces, quilts made of yarn and Polaroid pictures. The yarn frames each picture, which were taken at #countmein events, at the Antelope Valley Senior Center, and the HCA Senior Housing. Like a grandmother’s blanket enveloping the picture subjects in a hug. Though the show will not be in person, all viewers will still feel the comfort of the quilt. It also reflects the City of Lancaster embracing its different communities, especially in this time of need. Even though the world will look different when it starts up again, the city has kept us and will continue to keep us safe.

The core belief of the #countmein project was to invite everyone to participate in the Census process and be counted as a member of the community, because every individual makes a big difference in our community. While we are keeping our distance and protecting our loved ones at home, the much needed resources the city receives when people fill out the census were put into use immediately by our Governor and our City Managers. This is why it is imperative to fill out the Census, in 2020 and beyond, and to be counted. Our state will get the resources and representation it needs to provide necessary assistance to each of its communities and keep them running, but only if people do their part.

While many places will soon begin to open their doors again, the MOAH will remain closed to the public until further notice. However, our work continues. The museum administration and staff are continuing with their mission to make this #countmein show, one of the most important shows of the year, happen. Andi Campognone and Robert Benitez will present a virtual tour of the entire art show. No matter what, the MOAH is with and for the community. The museum is leading, innovating, and focusing their efforts on becoming one of the best museums in the world, regardless of circumstances, and this show is proof that they are on their way there.

Fui a visitar a la señora Chris Calaba a su casa, en las afueras del valle. Pensé que era importante escuchar a alguien que pasó la mitad de su vida sirviendo a la comunidad del AV, y quien presenció su transformación gradual hasta su retiro hace unos años. Fue copropietaria de Graphic Experience en Lancaster Blvd. durante más de veintisiete años; según la Sra. Calaba, el negocio más antiguo en el corazón de Lancaster.

Le dije que quería entrevistarla para este importante proyecto, #CountMeIn. Ella estuvo de acuerdo con la condición de que me uniera a ella y a su esposo, el artista Dennis Calaba, durante el almuerzo; lo que acepté con mucho gusto. Mientras almorzábamos, hablamos sobre su relación comercial con el antiguo Museo de Lancaster. Su negocio básicamente enmarcaba la mayor parte de cuadros que se exhiban en el museo para las competencias de arte, y para la antigua Asociación de Artes Aliadas, ahora MOAH-CEDAR. Su negocio también trabajó con el ayuntamiento de la ciudad y otras compañías importantes en el área.

Le pregunté si recordaba haber participado alguna vez en el censo. Ella dijo, por supuesto, que era muy importante en esos tiempos que todos quisieran involucrarse en la prosperidad de nuestra comunidad, y la única forma era llenar los formularios. En aquellos días, era importante para nuestro negocio informar a nuestros clientes sobre esto cada vez que se detenían a vernos. Además, el periódico local era nuestra única fuente de información además de la radio, por lo que hablábamos sobre estos importantes temas todo el tiempo.

Le mencioné que hoy en día, según los datos del censo, el área alrededor del Blvd. y varios bloques a la redonda es lo más difícil de contar. Ella respondió que se debe a los muchos complejos de apartamentos en el área y que muchas personas tienen que viajar a otros lugares para ir a trabajar. Además, la demografía ha cambiado; hay más hispanos, filipinos y otras etnias, y muchos no confían en las entidades gubernamentales.

Le pregunté a la Sra. Calaba qué piensa sobre los artistas que participan en este programa para dar a conocer la importancia del Censo 2020. Es maravilloso, respondió, la gente confía en los artistas más que en los políticos. Los artistas son visibles y se preocupan por el crecimiento de la comunidad; "El artista hace nuestras vidas más ricas y hermosas, lo sé, estoy casado con uno". También dijo que contar con el apoyo del MOAH es muy importante, porque el museo ahora es el corazón de esta comunidad. Me alegro de que nuestra pequeña comunidad haya llegado a ser reconocida más allá de Los Ángeles.

Después del almuerzo, nos sentamos en su sala de estar y ella continuó la plática en cámara invitando a la comunidad a participar y ser contada.

Edwin Vasquez, artist-in-residence, will be documenting #CountMeIn with an ongoing blog. Edwin, a poet and community-engagement artist, will be posting his observations throughout the project. This blog will chronicle the stories and people Edwin meets along the way. Through photos and interviews, Edwin reveals the narratives that are waiting to be told. #CountMeIn


Mailing Address: 44933 Fern Ave.,

Lancaster, CA 93534

665 W. Lancaster BLVD,

Lancaster, CA 93534

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