Whether you are a current, former, or potential member of NexGenLA—a program that offers L.A. County residents access to various youth and family art classes and free membership for all youth 17 and under to LACMA—you may know just how unique this membership is. NexGenLA is a once-in-a-lifetime and extraordinary initiative that offers everyone within L.A. County access and exposure to the arts. NexGenLA is a program that is constantly committed to shaping and encouraging the next generation of thinkers, leaders, and artists.
What you might not know is that the heart of NexGenLA lies within the LACMA employees who make an ongoing and personal commitment to serve the diverse community within L.A. County by organizing and sustaining this free membership program. To bring some of my colleagues' stories to the forefront, I had to opportunity to speak with two Education Coordinators and former NexGenLA members, Krystine Murry and Susi Castillo, about their lives, commitment to the arts, and participation in NexGenLA.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Susi: I am Susi Castillo. I am an Education Coordinator at LACMA, responsible for organizing and assisting with programs such as Summer Art Camp, Andell Family Sundays, and various Youth and Family Art Classes that our museum offers. I was born and raised in Inglewood and I went to school in Hawthorne. I have been making art my whole life and I usually love to explore all forms of artistic mediums. For example, drawing, painting, sculpting, and printmaking. I have this large desk at home full of various supplies.
Krystine: I am Krystine Murry and I am the NexGenLA and Boone Children’s Gallery Coordinator. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I love to spend most of my time exploring Downtown L.A., Korea Town, and Long Beach. I also love to paint with acrylics, read, antique shop, explore flea markets, collect art from beginning artists, and try all kinds of food that Los Angeles has to offer.
How would you describe the NexGenLA program for anyone who may be unfamiliar with it?
Susi: I like to think of NexGenLA as an invitation to youths who might otherwise feel unwelcome within the arts. There is this perception that arts institutions aren’t safe spaces for youth and families, and I believe that NexGenLA helps to break down that idea.
With NexGenLA, the LACMA staff is communicating to the public within L.A. County that we want you here and we will make our museum accessible to you. We like to keep in mind the cost of attending LACMA, so one way we like to make our museum accessible is by allowing free entry to youth 17 and under and giving free entry to an accompanying adult or caretaker.
We’ve found that this free admission has had a positive impact on youth and families who can now enjoy taking their time within the exhibitions, as opposed to feeling rushed into seeing all of the works of art in one day due to the price of entry. That can be really exhausting.
Krystine: NexGenLA is definitely all of those things. It is an important program centered around inclusivity and accessibility. I would like to add that NexGenLA is also an invitation for youth and families to creatively explore their artistic self-expression. With free arts activities, youth and families don’t have to be confined to the museum’s current exhibitions anymore. Rather, they can explore and enjoy the other creative environments that our NexGenLA program offers. Depending on what creative environment you’re trying to tap into, you can become a part of a greater community through our free membership program.
You were both former NexGenLA members. What was it that drew you to sign up for NexGenLA?
Susi: Funnily enough, signing up for NexGenLA wasn’t my choice. I was in the third grade and was too young to know anything about the membership program. Somehow, my mom heard that we could both get into LACMA for free and signed us up right away.
Krystine: My experience was extremely similar to Susi’s as I was also in the third grade when my mom found out about NexGenLA. She knew right away that this was a great way to come to the museum frequently until I turned 18. Although I didn’t understand the value of a dollar when I was younger, as I look back now, I am grateful that we had the opportunity to come into LACMA for free whenever we wanted to.
Was there a moment when you realized that NexGenLA had a greater impact on you beyond being just a free membership?
Susi: There were a few moments for me. The first time I realized the impact that NexGenLA had on me was when I was in the eighth grade. My school had canceled our class field trip to LACMA and I realized that I was unaffected because I had and would continue visiting the museum whenever I chose to. Unfortunately, as I came to this realization, I noticed that many of my classmates were affected as they had never been to LACMA, or any museum, and they were now denied this one opportunity to visit.
Another time I realized NexGenLA’s impact was after I started volunteering in high school. I had the opportunity and pleasure to witness the excitement that many kids and teens felt in signing up as they had never had the opportunity to visit LACMA.
Krystine: Now in my adult life I realize just how great of an impact NexGenLA had on me in my youth as I was able to see such a diverse group of people visiting our museum. Having that representation gave me such an amazing feeling that I still carry with me to this day. I am very proud of the role NexGenLA played in changing the demographics of LACMA.
What did your family involvement look like with the NexGenLA program? Did it have a similar impact on them?
Susi: My family was very involved in the NexGenLA program. Because my mom didn’t drive, my family would often take the bus to LACMA and we would make a day trip out of it. Whenever I had the opportunity to visit, I would always want to look at the Nympheas painting by Claude Monet. My sister on the other hand, would want to look at Magdalene with the Smoking Flame by Georges de La Tour, as this painting was featured in The Little Mermaid.
Krystine: My family was also heavily involved in NexGenLA. My mom was a volunteer for 20 years and she participated in all of the programs, including working the NexGenLA sign-up table and Andell Family Sundays, which offers free arts activities for families on Sundays. Impressively, my mom even encouraged parents to sign up at her daytime job.
Growing up, what was your involvement in the arts beyond NexGenLA? Did you draw, write, dance, or doodle in class?
Susi: I was relatively quiet as a kid so I wouldn’t draw in class because I didn’t want to get in trouble. However, I did prefer to draw during recess instead of playing with my usual group of friends. Apart from drawing at school, I was actually in a local folklorico group in Inglewood. I mostly attended practices but I did dance in a couple of local performances. Oh! I was also involved in theater while attending school.
Krystine: As opposed to Susi, I was on the extroverted side in my adolescence and I was primarily involved in the performing arts. I grew up dancing and playing instruments such as the piano and violin. I was even fortunate enough to take part in a program that was offered by the Conservatory of Fine Arts through the Los Angeles Unified School District, which offered classes such as theater or singing and dance. I chose theater and dance.
My mother and father are extremely creative individuals so I was always involved in and encouraged to participate in creative activities. I am very fortunate to have my family as they helped me realize that art is everywhere and it comes in all different shapes and forms.
Reflecting on your experiences, what has it felt like on your journeys? Going from volunteers to part-time Art Teaching Assistants to now full-time Education Coordinators?
Susi: For myself, it felt like a natural progression going from a volunteer to part-time and now full-time employee. Over the years, as I began getting involved in more and more programs, my responsibilities began slowly increasing as well. I got to know many LACMA employees throughout my journey here and it has been extremely reassuring and beneficial seeing the trust that I have built with all of my colleagues. They know that they can tap on my shoulder at any time and they will be supported with anything that they need.
Krystine: It also felt like a natural progression for me as well. Reflecting on my journey, it definitely feels full circle as I am now involved in organizing and developing programs that I was involved in during my youth. Both of our points of view are very unique as we have truly been able to understand the program on multiple levels. We know fully, from experience, what the NexGenLA program can do for our audience and staff. It is very cool recognizing this amazing feat.
Lastly, what advice, if any, would you give to the next generation?
Susi: If you enjoy something, do it. Don’t let what someone else thinks about it influence your actions. Even if you think that you are bad at something, if it brings you joy, I say go for it.
Krystine: To echo what Susi said, everybody is learning so there is no right or wrong way to go about doing something, especially within the arts. When it comes down to artistic self expression or artistic interpretation, you should realize that there is beauty in having different art styles. Art doesn’t have to be hyper realistic. It can be whatever you want it to be. Explore your curiosities and don’t let anything or anyone stop you. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is super important. You never know what your opportunities are unless you ask.
I would like to thank Krystine Murry and Susi Castillo for taking the time to answer my interview questions. I have had the privilege and pleasure to work alongside these two amazing individuals. I have also witnessed their passion and dedication towards accessibility, inclusivity, and representation. They are truly the heart of the NexGenLA program. I encourage anyone interested to sign up in person for the NexGenLA program during available LACMA hours. For any additional information or online sign-ups please feel free to visit our website.
The conversation was condensed and edited for clarity.
Learn how easy-peasy it is to sign up for NexGenLA, LACMA's free museum membership for Los Angeles county kids and teens. If you or someone you know is an alumni of the NexGenLA program, please stay in contact with LACMA by emailing us at NexGenLa@lacma.org