Thursday, January 28, 2010

JT News: Planning For The Future

After six years on campus, Rabbi Elie Estrin and his wife Chaya — leaders of the University of Washington’s Chabad House — noticed two things. First, the Jewish community on campus has seen huge growth. Second, the Jewish student groups could accomplish far more if the students who led them were given the skills to achieve their goals.

With those thoughts in mind, Estrin began to work on a plan to provide students with top-notch leadership training. Through mutual acquaintances at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, he was connected with Jan Levy and her program, called Leadership Tomorrow, a local leadership development and community-building organization that counts dozens of CEOs and elected officials among its alumni.

“When it was suggested I speak with [Levy], that was what really pulled it into existence,” Estrin said. “She understood exactly what I wanted from the get-go and we had a really good meeting of the minds, and the format that we envisioned was really the same vision.”

Leaders were chosen from every major Jewish group on the UW campus, drawing on Huskies for Israel, Hillel, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity and Banot. Estrin handpicked some students he knew would be serious about the program and would be inspired to give back to the community as a result. Others came forward and requested to participate.

“I was looking for people who would, A, learn what vision is, B, implement their vision and not get distracted by pitfalls along the way, and C, have accountability,” Estrin said. “I felt that there were a lot of students with lofty goals but they didn’t know how to apply them. We’re hoping to eventually cause a greater number of students on campus to have a much more mature outlook, with much more knowledgeable and skillful projects.”

The program, a concentrated synthesis of Leadership Tomorrow’s nine-month program that combines the conceptual, skills and application training led by Levy and her colleague Bob Ness, culminates with a project stage where teams of four or five students select a project to work on and present progress at the end of the school year.

“This is designed to make the students take responsibility for leadership,” Levy said. “The students are learning things that are applicable throughout their lives. In the first session, we asked them to write their own life mission statement, and in each session we revisit it and talk about how it’s starting to evolve.”

The desire of the students to attend was evident through their willingness to contribute toward the seminars’ cost, ensuring that they had a stake in the process.

“I only had something to gain by going,” said Daniel Hirsty, a UW sophomore who is a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi and participates at Hillel. “I have a lot of different interests, and learning how to build coalitions and be a strong leader is important. I really just want to propel myself to be a better citizen.”

Estrin plans to continue the program annually, envisioning a competitive program that selects only the top students with greatest leadership potential—and desire to attend. If all goes as planned, he theorizes by the time the freshmen taking this course are graduating there will be up to 80 students who are trained with the same leadership skills and an ability to accomplish even bigger projects.

“We’re not doing this for our organization,” Estrin said. “We’re doing this for the community as a whole. This is not a project that we’re specifically benefitting from. This is a project the entire university community, and eventually the Jewish community as a whole, will benefit from.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

White Center Now: Dzul: Body art with “flavor” in downtown White Center

Alex (left) and Smiley (right) on their lowrider bikes in the shop. See more photos in an audiovisual slideshow here.

“It’s a picture of my son,” the man in the chair said in Spanish. “Enrique is his name. When I came to the United States, I left him when he was 2 months old. It’s to have him with me all the time, to have a memory of him, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to see him again.”

Francisco Antonio Flores-Renteria came to the U.S. three years ago. When looking for a place to have the portrait done — his second tattoo — he looked no further than Dzul Studio— a place that was clean, where he trusted the quality of the art, and where he was able to converse in his own language.

The studio, run by brothers Alejandro (“Alex”) and Jacob (“Smiley”) as well as piercing-artist sisters Catalina and Elizabeth, takes the family name to heart: Dzul is a Mayan word meaning master or leader, one who stands above others in character or reputation. And that reputation has been built up over the last decade.

“I started to draw at an early age,” said Smiley, “and my friends from my neighborhood knew that I knew how to draw, so they were the ones who actually got me into it.” He sports seven tattoos himself: on his legs, right arm, collarbone, each shoulder, and his mother’s name on his back — his first, at age 16. “That’s how I started, just doing names for (friends) and their mom’s names and initials.”

After four years of doing airbrush art at weekend swap meets and homemade tattoos for friends on the side — and discovering fairs like Bite of Seattle, Bumbershoot, Hempfestand Portland’s Cinco de Mayo celebration — the brothers had amassed enough capital to open a studio.

“When we first moved out to the Northwest, there wasn’t a lot of art put out with our perspective or flavor,” said Alex. “We’re from the Southwest, and when we came in there were a lot of people who wanted art but they weren’t getting it. That’s one of the places where we come in and really shine, because we have a very unique style.”

Smiley, the studio’s resident tattoo expert, is a master of the more urban black-and-gray tattoo style, but is also a talented tribal and color artist. About 80 percent of the art done at Dzul is original, and while the brothers have “flash” designs premade — reusable and template art — they’ve found that people are more interested in art that speaks directly to them, and that both parties are often more excited to do unique work.

While the Dzuls cater to their culture, only 30 percent to 40 percent of their clientele is Hispanic. Instead, they draw on the many ethnic and age demographics that tattoo culture has infiltrated, as well as their clients from places as far away as Everett and Vancouver, B.C., who travel specifically to visit the White Center studio.

“A lot of people who speak Spanish feel good to be understood, but the population in Seattle is not heavily Hispanic,” said Alex. “We’re really pretty diverse when it comes to who walks through our doors. “

The siblings, all Queen Anne residents, are currently looking to either move or expand to a location somewhere closer to the center of Seattle. One of their main reasons for originally choosing the shop’s location was its affordability for young artist-entrepreneurs.

In addition to massive updates to the studio’s Web site — including an education-focused FAQ section — within the next year, Dzul also plans to launch a clothing line and sponsor an art exhibition with a Day of the Dead theme featuring original art, tattooing and photography.

“People come through, they get their work, it’s original,” said Alex. “They have a perspective and we just help them to make it look good. I thought it would be good to do portraits of them and their tattoos to tell their stories.”

In the words of Alex, who studied graphic design at the Art Institute of Seattle, artists always need a community of other people who share their passion. And, luckily for these four siblings, that artistic community is also blood.

“If there’s anyone you can trust the most,” Smiley said, “it’s your family.”