My name is Dylan Kendall. I grew up in several states and went to schools that encouraged a lot of creative thinking. When I was 17, a year after moving to Los Angeles and after graduating high school early, my parents thought it best if I put my energies into more productive activities then staying out late in Hollywood so they packed me up and sent me to Richmond College in London. Four months later, I bolted and began running around the Middle East, eventually landing in Paris.
In Paris, I “unofficially” took classes at Parsons School of Design. That worked. Certain I had found my refuge in art-making, I moved to Oakland to enroll at the College of Arts and Crafts. I got a job in a local bar when I was 20, Bella Napolis, the only black-owned, gay black bar in Oakland and where I learned to pour a mean shot of Courvoisier and back it with a beer. I left both the college and the bar about a year later. I went back to Europe, then to Africa….
I started making things with clay when I was 22 years old. I had just moved to Los Angeles with a 38 year old French writer I met in Kenya where I had been living for six months. He wanted to come to Los Angeles for the entertainment industry and since I was a fugitive from the Kenyan law for firing my houseboy, my opinion didn’t carry much weight in the decision-making process. Los Angeles it was. We flew first class from Lamu to LA before I realized my travelling companion was also a fugitive, only from the French law.
We found ourselves in LA without a dime to our names.
I started bar tending at the Gaslight, one of the first clubs on the mean streets of 1992 Hollywood. My French friend started drinking. I bought a pug of clay from Blick Art Materials on Beverly Blvd and started making things. A year later, the French man was arrested on a DUI and we put him on a plane (still a little drunk) and sent him out of the country.
I knew as much about clay as I did bartending but I was tenacious, a little nuts and most importantly, I had a library card. Students interested in fancy bartending schools? There’s nothing a note card, a highlighter and a library book can’t tell you about what’s in a drink. As if anyone in Hollywood cared. The art of bartending had little to do with vodka, much to do with attitude. I would say the same for ceramics. There was nothing a book and a lot of calls to the ceramics supplier couldn’t help me figure out. I bought a kiln and put it in my living room. I pulled up the carpet in my one bedroom, threw a couple of doors onto saw horses, and slept on the couch. I was obsessed. I listened to loud music, chain smoked and just pounded the hell out of clay.
By 26, I was represented by three galleries in two states. I began to apply for grants. I wanted to quit bartending. But I had never finished college. I decided to move back to Oakland to get my degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts.
I rented a two-story loft in Oakland. The loft was in a rundown neighborhood next to the recently gentrified community of Emeryville. My building was an early investment in the same type of gentrification. However the neighborhood was still blighted and the building securely “protected” behind 20 foot iron fences that could only be accessed through security codes. Dilapidated houses lined the streets. Pit bulls, emaciated with ribs sticking out, wandered the neighborhood. Rusty appliances, old abandoned cars, and torn furniture littered front yards. From the window of the second story of my loft I looked into the back yard of one of the worst houses on the block, a back yard with a rickety shack and left over furniture. I would drink my morning coffee contemplating poverty.
Every day, I would get in my car and wind my way out of these impoverished streets to the college campus. A beautiful campus with trees, birds and craftsman architecture. On campus I would dive my hands into clay. The stories of my past were pounded, beaten and sculpted into three-dimensional chimeras of my own imagination.
At night, sitting in my kitchen, I would look out the window of my loft and feel sick to my stomach. I was so angry about the poverty and desperation that existed around me. I knew that if the kids in these neighborhoods could have access to the same creative experiences I was fortunate enough to have, they might not grow up angry and hopeless…they might have a chance at changing their lives. It was time to put my energy into something bigger. It was time to make my voice louder.
At 28, I packed up the studio, moved back to Los Angeles and enrolled at UCLA. I earned my Bachelors Degree at 31 and my Masters of Art degree at 33. After the success of my first nonprofit, the Open Museum of Los Angeles, I was accepted into the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs.
But I grew disillusioned with the public sector and a conversation with a happy and successful girlfriend encouraged me to return to clay 6 years after selling off the studio. With forks as scoring tools and plates as bats, I began again. But it wasn’t meant to be. Breakfast with City Council President Eric Garcetti and a location in Hollywood put into a movement a series of events that would change my life, yet again.
In 2005, I founded Hollywood Arts, the first educational facility in the nation to use arts, performance and media-based education to help mainstream the over 18 homeless and foster care population. Through Hollywood Arts, I met my foster son John and became a grandmother to his son Nickolas. My family grew to include the baby’s mother, Karina and her incredible family, the Vegas, and I watched Hollywood Arts soar around me until I knew it was time for me to leave. The voice of my past was calling.
The rest, as they say, is now….stay tuned for pop-out blogs with more colorful details of past chapters, present chapters and chapters that haven’t yet happened….