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Meet Our New Associate Program Officer, Lucena Lau Valle

NAME: Lucena Lau Valle

TITLE: Associate Program Officer

PREVIOUSLY: 2015-2017 Graduate Teaching Fellow, Humanities Out There, UC Irvine

GUIDING QUOTE/TAGLINE: “And what shall I tell you, lady, of the natural secrets I have discovered while cooking? … I often say, when observing these details: had Aristotle prepared victuals, he would have written more.”
-Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana was a seventeenth century Hieronymite nun who lived in a cloistered convent in Mexico City. She was a voracious reader and a prolific writer, her poems and treatises dealt with the subjects ranging from gender, religion, gastronomy and the natural sciences. Sor Juana’s writing often used allegory and irony to pose deeper questions, and her keen wit reminds me how even in the everyday we can find unexpected ways to be inquisitive, lyrical, and mindful.

CURRENTLY READING: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, by David Harvey

Marxist geographer David Harvey has been one of my favorite writers for many years. In Rebel Cities, Harvey asks how cities can be reorganized in more economically equitable, socially just and ecologically sustainable ways. One of the things I enjoy most about this book is how Harvey traces the shifting conceptions of urban space that are shaped by the overlapping landscapes of culture, social movements, and economy.

FAVORITE MOMENT OF CALIFORNIA HISTORY: There are too many to choose just one! One event that stands out to me was the creation of the Shades of L.A. visual history project, started in 1994. This was actually the first California Humanities supported program that I ever attended, and I can recall visiting this exhibition at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library with my family. Seeing family photographs, like the ones my family had, regarded with such importance made a profound impression on me. Shades of L.A. was remarkable because it invited community members from across the city to share some of their treasured family snapshots as well as record oral histories about the people, places and events shown in their photographs. I am struck by the lasting importance of this project, because it created a vast archive documenting the city’s ethnic history that was ignored by the official historical record. Today, there are over 10,000 photographs archived at the LAPL collected by Shades of L.A. that can help us reconstruct Los Angeles’ ethnic history.

What was it about California Humanities that first appealed to you?

As a researcher and educator I’ve had a fair amount of experience collaborating on grant-funded programs. I know firsthand how grant funding can transform the reach of a program, and create opportunities for audiences to have meaningful engagement with your research. For this reason I’ve always looked to the work California Humanities has made building the field of the humanities and in creating a broader platform to share the important work grantees are doing. I was excited to take on the role of Associate Program Officer to help project directors and community based organizations develop public humanities projects that speak to the diverse ways communities across the state are thinking about California’s past, present and future. Now that I’m on the job, I’m honored to help so many thoughtful and hard-working grant seekers and craft applications that reflect the important work they’re doing.

You taught Art History for over six years, how has your time as an educator prepared you for working in a re-granting organization like California Humanities?

In my past month with California Humanities I’ve come to see many parallels with my work an educator and in my new role as Associate Program Officer. As an educator, public humanities have always been central to my teaching practice in the classroom and in museum galleries. Now, as an Associate Program Officer, my objective to support, expand and evaluate the reach of public humanities projects through grant making remains a central focus to my work. This position has shown me a multitude of ways that public humanities can help us all participate in diverse expressions of public citizenship.

In an alternate universe, what career path has Lucena Lau Valle taken?

Before working as an arts educator I did a fair amount work in retail. One of my favorite retail jobs was working at the fine pen counter at Flax Art and Design on Market Street in San Francisco. I always found it so fascinating to see how each customer tested a pen to see if it suited their particular preferences. Artists were often concerned with the quality of line produced by a pen, and by contrast writers were often concerned with the weight and balance of a pen. I think that writing and drawing are such deeply personal practices almost like alchemy—because you are trying to manifest the image or words that are out there in the ethers onto the page. Working behind the fine pen counter at Flax certainly made me fall in love with fountain pens, which I still collect to this day! Perhaps in an alternate universe I may have had my own fine pen shop that sold rare and unusual fountain pens.

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