Diego Share: Middle School Student’s Artwork Reflects Talent, Imagination of VAPAE

Undergraduate education minors teach art at schools throughout Los Angeles, including UCLA Community School.

When Barbara Drucker, associate dean of Academic Affairs at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, visited Jeff Share, a faculty advisor in UCLA’s Teacher Education Program (TEP), she was struck by the unusual sculptures on display in his Moore Hall office. The proud father of 13-year-old Diego Share-Vargas had, among other artworks by his son, numerous 3-D sculptures made entirely of pipe cleaners. The sculptures impressed Drucker so much that she asked if Share would be willing to have them displayed on campus.

A 3D sculpture by Diego Share-Vargas. Photo by Jeff Share

Last month, the young artist, who is an 8th grader at a middle school in the San Fernando Valley, his mother, Laura Vargas-Diaz, and Share assisted Drucker in installing 73 of Diego’s creations in the Educational Resource Center of the Visual and Performing Arts Education (VAPAE) program. The space, which is located in the Broad Art Center, will feature Share-Vargas’s work through the spring quarter.

“I absolutely recognize immense talent, drive, and imagination,” says Drucker, an artist and former chair of the Art Department at UCLA. “That’s what Diego’s sculptures showed me.

“My arts education undergrads are encouraging their pupils to be creative,” she says. “This was a prime example of creativity that was self-motivated and self-propelled. The creative process, inventiveness – those are the strengths and values that are being displayed.”

The VAPAE program sends undergraduate education minors to teach art at Los Angeles schools including UCLA Community School in Koreatown. Drucker and Share were meeting to discuss the work that TEP is doing related to media literacy and the possibility of adding a similar component to the VAPAE minor when she saw Diego Share-Vargas’s pipe cleaner creations.

Jeff Share teaches a required course in the TEP program on critical media literacy that supports the mission of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies of preparing teachers to teach for social justice. In the class, his students examine the importance of critical thinking not only in interpreting literature, but in viewing and creating messages in all forms of media.

“We look at it from a teaching perspective, of how to broaden what students are doing in the classroom so that when they’re teaching kids to read and write, they understand that literacy encompasses everything,” says Share. “It’s no longer just reading and writing words on a page. Literacy means being able to read and write photographs, movies, music, popular culture and all different mediums.”

Share says that critical media literacy “pushes a lot of deeper ideas of thinking about ideology and about how all messages, no matter how objective or neutral they seem, have a bias, that is all information is linked to power.

“If we recognize that power is connected to all communication, what does it mean in terms of representations of race, class, gender, etc? Who is benefiting and who is losing out? We bring that into the equation so that students and teachers no longer think, ‘It’s just the message that’s there,’ but recognize that messages and the medium through which they are transmitted position us to read them in a certain way.”

A graduate of Vermont College, Share was a freelance photojournalist for several prominent publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Time, Life, People, and Newsweek. He says that photojournalism was for him, a form of activism.

“There was always this kind of myth that journalists were objective,” Share recalls. “When I was covering a peace march, the editors at Time said, ‘If you were one of the marchers, we wouldn’t even be sitting here talking to you and looking at your pictures. But since you said you were a journalist who was on the march, we want to see your pictures.’

Artist Diego Share-Vargas explains his creative process to Barbara Drucker, associate dean of Academic Affairs at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, as they install his work in the Broad Art Center; Drucker’s assistant Lindsay Lindberg looks on. Photo by Jeff Share

“I tell my students that as a good journalist, you try to bring in as little of your subjectivity as possible,” Share continues. “But you’ve got to own it. There’s no way you can escape subjectivity, with the facts you include, even what words you use – ‘terrorist’ or ‘freedom fighter.’”

After leaving journalism, Share taught for seven years at Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles’ Pico Union area, where several of his former students now teach. An alumnus of GSE&IS himself, Share says that the opportunity to study with Professor Douglas Kellner was his chief motivation for earning his doctorate at UCLA (Class of ’06, Ph.D., Social Sciences and Comparative Education).

“It was his work in cultural studies and media literacy that brought me here,” says Share. “He really allowed me to develop the way I wanted to. I brought my ideas and experience from photojournalism into the classroom, and then while learning about cultural studies and media literacy, I was seeing that critical media literacy was a pedagogy that really needs to be taught.”

Diego Share-Vargas is no stranger to messages in art. He says that when he was in the first grade at The Multicultural Learning Center in Canoga Park, his teacher, Patty Anderson, made her students mindful of the value of collaboration.

“She always had the mentality that we are all small parts that work together to form a greater entity to achieve greater things,” says Share-Vargas. “So, as a symbol, we created a paper hive with one honeycomb for every child. We each then were taught how to make a very simple pipe cleaner bee and put it in one part of the hive.”

The visualization of teamwork inspired Share-Vargas’ own individuality, and fueled him to expand his own creativity.

“I loved my bee because I thought it was so well made and so beautiful,” he says. “I really didn’t want to put it into the hive, but I did. However, after a while I decided to steal it back, and when I did that I felt bad and I didn’t know what to do.

“After a while I decided I would learn how to make a bee so that I could have one for myself and give that one back. So I bought a small bag of pipe cleaners and started playing around with them, and decided I really liked them. From then on, I have made pipe cleaner figures for seven years.”

Share-Vargas comes from a family of educators. His mother Laura Vargas-Diaz, is a UCLA alumna (Class of ’00, M.A., Latin American studies) and a health educator for Planned Parenthood in South Los Angeles. His grandfather Jack Share is a former professor of education at UCLA and a clinical and educational psychologist. Jeff Share says that being an educator himself has enhanced his parenting experience.

L-R: Laura Vargas-Diaz, Diego Share-Vargas, and Jeff Share. Courtesy of Jeff Share

“It’s taught me a lot,” he says. “Nobody teaches us how to be parents, so learning how to be a teacher has been very helpful. Then sometimes, I probably go overboard with my son.”

Share says that being the son of a professor did not propel him toward higher education – at first.

“My way of rebelling against my parents was to say, ‘I’m not going to college,’” Share says. “I went to a very mediocre high school and hated it. I got in my car after I graduated from high school and drove around the country for about a year and a half. And it was after that experience that I decided, ‘I need an education.’

“I worked at an oil refinery in Louisiana where these guys in white shirts and white hard hats came in during the day. They would tell us what to do and we had to do everything they said or we were fired immediately. I didn’t want to be pushed around like that.”

While Diego Share-Vargas says that being from a family of educators does create a lot of pressure to succeed, he challenges himself to meet and even surpass his parents’ example.

“I get great advice from [my parents] and trust them because of their past experiences,” he says. “Especially since they did so well when they were young, it really pushes me to, in a sense compete against my parents. To some extent I do feel that this [motivates] me to try to succeed in school more than my friends. However, most of my close friends’ parents are teachers of science, math, and philosophy and so on. This pushes them to achieve, in most cases, much more strongly than me.”

Due to the limited offerings of art classes at his school, Share-Vargas participates in LAUSD’s Conservatory of Fine Arts, a Saturday morning program that takes place at California State University, Los Angeles. He says that the creative and collaborative environment inspires his attitude towards his own art.

“Everybody supports and pushes each other’s talents there and it is a great place,” he says.

Share-Vargas – who at this point says he is considering a career in medicine or engineering – is also inspired by “the idea of having the ability to make anything I can imagine.”

“I don’t have to go out and buy things or depend on other people to make me things that I like,” he says. “That concept amazes and empowers me.”


Above: Diego Share-Vargas and Barbara Drucker, associate dean of Academic Affairs at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, install his work in the Broad Art Center. Photo by Jeff Share