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Gearing up for The Dead: El Dia de Los Muertos Art Workshops at Self Help Graphics

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By Willy Blackmore/Special to LAist

We’re only a few weeks past summer and Southern California is already doing a pretty good impression of fall this week, with record lows hitting some cities. But even if the heat comes back later in the month, as we all know it almost certainly will, the spirit of the season in East Los Angeles won’t be deterred, no matter the weather.

At the corner of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Gage Avenue, the broken-plate mosaic-ed Self Help Graphics will be full of seasoned Chicano artists and armies of volunteers throughout October, all working with tissue paper, glue, paint, old newspapers and a variety of other materials to build the various art objects associated with El Dia de los Muertos.

Tissue paper flowers, calaveras of all sizes, intricately cut papel picado banners, luminarias and other symbolic images are all needed in large numbers for Self Help Graphics 36th annual Day of the Dead celebration taking place at the East Los Angeles Civic Center on November 2nd.

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A long-standing print shop and community arts center in East LA, Self Help Graphics has been championing Chicano arts and culture and general civic well being and engagement through workshops, community events and art exhibitions since the early 1970s.

You too can join in on the tradition by lending a helping hand over the next few weekends while learning a bit of traditional Mexican craft and bring home a few new decorations for your house or apartment too. The sum of this community effort will be a giant alter built by local ofendra-builder extraordinaire, Ofelia Esparza, which will be displayed at Self Help Graphics on October 24th, as well as a community alter for the November 2nd celebrations.

Much like the Virgin of Guadalupe, the imagery of El Dia de los Muertos is commonplace in Los Angeles, its skeleton-driven art moving far beyond the traditional cultural context and into any number of tattoos, t-shirts, band flyers and elsewhere in LA pop culture.

Judging by last year’s event, Self Help Graphics manages to combine both the traditional and the pop elements in their festivities—mariachi music and traditional foods like pan de muerto, tamales and champurrado—a corn-thickened spiced chocolate drink—mixed seamlessly with Hit+Run custom-silkscreened calavera t-shirts and an exhibition of art by contemporary Chicano artists.

Some of the same and most likely much more can be expected from this year’s festivities, considering the extended line-up of musical acts and a new, larger location that have already been announced. So if you can’t make it over to East Los Angeles for any of the weekend workshops before Halloween, be sure to follow up on the candy-and-costumed madness of Halloween with an evening at the East LA Civic center to enjoy what is surely the most authentic, most diverse and most artistically-relevant Day of the Dead celebration in the Southland.