From the time that he was growing up in East L.A., Bob Hernandez (Chouinard BFA 72) wanted to be a teacher. His high school instructors, in particular, were his role models and mentors who taught him about art and then helped him get into art school at Chouinard Art Institute, the college that would merge with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to become CalArts.
“Chouinard changed my life,” Hernandez says. “I was 17 and naïve and Chouinard allowed me to discover the world and made me feel like I had something to offer.” Hernandez studied illustration, advertising and design, and a Chouinard faculty member, Bill Terra, helped him land his first job right after graduation. He was hired as a graphic artist at KNXT, a local L.A. TV station which eventually became KCBS. At the station, Hernandez drew graphics by hand for news shows in the age before computer graphics. He produced maps and other graphics on the spot for many of the major news events during the 1970s and 80s, including the SLA shootout in Los Angeles, the Manson trial, and the Vietnam War. Over the years, he worked his way up to art director.
When computer graphics came on the scene, Hernandez became one of the pioneers, leaving KCBS in 1982 for Candle Corporation to create computer-generated moving graphics, which are now ubiquitous on TV. He won an Emmy and several national and international awards in both broadcast television and multimedia during this period. “Within two years, everyone in the business was on it,” he says. “I was a hot commodity.” By 1985 he was back at KCBS as Creative Director Design, and later went to work for Fox Sports Network, helping launch the NFL on Fox, and then to Telemundo as a design director and art director, respectively. In 2008, the show he was working on got cancelled and Hernandez was laid off. He was 58, and spent the next few years applying for design jobs without luck.
“My wife said, ‘You like to teach. Why don’t you do it?’” Hernandez recalls. A Santa Clarita resident, Hernandez had noticed that the public school system in the area lacked much art instruction. “There were no public community programs either.” Hernandez attended many local government meetings to get to know city officials and he met with arts education experts and others to learn how to launch a non-profit.
“Bob talked to me about how to start an art center,” say Glenna Avila, artistic director of Community Arts Partnership, CalArts’ free, after-school and school-based arts program for youth. “He has a big heart and is just fantastic.”
In 2009, he started ARTree, hired volunteer teachers, and began offering art classes to youths in Newhall in 2010, eventually spreading ARTree programs to six community centers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.
Initially, it looked like a disappointment, as only a handful of kids showed up to ARTree’s first class. His friends advised him to give up. “It was embarrassing, but I knew we had to be part of the landscape,” Hernandez says. He joined local civic clubs to spread the word, printed up fliers, and soon attendance for ARTree classes grew. While the classes are geared toward children in elementary school, he involved older kids in art projects by organizing mural making in the community, hiring a notorious local graffiti artist to lead the teenage mural makers. ARTree continues to produce murals throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, creating community involvement with many groups. "We are always looking for volunteers and welcome any help that we get," he says.
Hernandez’s goal now is to find a permanent home for ARTree, most likely in Newhall. He’s scouting locations while raising money for rent, supplies, and other costs. “That’s my dream: a place where kids can go after school and do creative projects. A place where they will feel at home and feel a creative spirit all the time.” While classes were initially free, he now charges a minimal materials fee. “We want to be of service to everyone who is underserved in the arts in the area.”
Hernandez says that “faith, family, and what I’m doing with my life are the three things that are important to me. I feel like the work I’m doing is important. I want to leave a legacy. I want my life to have mattered. Life is not always about your job or the money you’re making, but about how you’ve helped others.”