An announcement late last month, that took some by surprise, will set forth a new era for a Las Fotos Project. Eric V. Ibarra, founder of the beloved Eastside youth organization. said he will be transitioning out of his role of Executive Director by the end of this month. ,
By stepping down, Ibarra will allow the group to become a 100% women of color-led organization.
Lucía Torres, Las Fotos’ current associate director, will transition into the executive director role on July 31.
“Eric has always been very intentional with wanting Las Fotos to be completely led by the people it serves” said Torres, who has been with the program since 2014,. “Having leaders who look like you, who identify as you do and who have similar experiences to you, the connections you build to the work often go deeper and the mutual growth between mentee and mentor becomes a lot stronger.”
Ibarra started Las Fotos Project in 2010, when he saw a need for teenage girls throughout Los Angeles to have a skill that could build their confidence and self-esteem. Over the past decade, the program has mentored over 1,400 teenage girls through the help of over 400 mentors and teaching artists, to photograph over a million images of underrepresented communities like Boyle Heights.
“The program has come a long way from starting as a series of workshops Eric created to inspire girls in the community through photography,” said Torres. “He saw how impactful those workshops were and pushed Las Fotos to grow into what it is today.”
“We used to work out of a small office which then grew into a larger space where we started being able to serve more youth and provide better equipment for our girls to host their own exhibits and to further expand our programming with digital advocacy.”
For many young girls who have gone through the program over the past 10 years, Ibarra has been a caring, influential figure who changed the lives of many through his leadership in Las Fotos Project. While the news comes as a shock to some, many students currently in the program say they appreciate his decision.
These are some statements from past participants:
At first it was sad to hear he was stepping down because he taught me so much about photography and gave me a lot of self-confidence. After seeing why he was doing it, I knew it was the right decision. Being able to see a women of color-led organization serving girls of color like me is such an empowering thing, especially today. I can’t wait to see how Las Fotos changes and grows in the future, especially because Lucia has been so hard-working too.Malinalli Diaz (13-years-old)
I’m really going to miss Eric because he was always super fun to work with and always open to helping whenever I needed someone to talk to. I think Las Fotos moving towards being completely mujeres-led is beautiful because that’s the work the program has been striving for, to help women build their own skills and leadership. I’m excited to have Lucia as our new Director and look forward to seeing how she takes us forward.Mina Alvarado-Goldberg (15-years-old)
The transition in leadership was originally planned to happen earlier in the year, but the announcement was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many other organizations across the country, Las Fotos had to shift its plans and programming online practically overnight.
“As soon as we couldn’t keep meeting in person, they made sure to check in with us regularly to see how we were doing and to find out if there were things we needed or people to talk to for support,” said Rocío Hernandez, a rising senior at Mendez. “The top priority was always our physical and mental health above all else and I’m so grateful because of that. For those of us who wanted to keep on working on our projects and lessons from home, they supported us if we needed access to wifi, laptops, camera batteries or anything else that we needed support with. We also had chances to talk with each other to destress and connect.”
While the future may be uncertain because of the pandemic, Torres said supporting youth in the program will remain a top priority. Lessons and projects may have to continue remotely, but the new 100% women-led leadership on the team says it’s working to continue the work and mission of Las Fotos Project.
Another big change is also coming for the organization in 2020. The organization will soon be moving into its own new permanent headquarters in Boyle Heights where it hopes to further expand its work thanks to the support of over 200 generous supports.
The mew space will feature a 1,200 square foot exhibition space, a 150 square foot darkroom, a 450 square foot state-of-the-art photography studio, a 3,000 square foot outdoor space for outdoor learning and events as well as additional space for staff and students to collaborate.
To help support the new space, Las Fotos Project applied and was chosen as a finalist in the #MYLA2050 Grants Challenge. The organization could win a $100,000 grant if it gets a majority of votes in the grant’s “CREATE” category. (Boyle Heights Beat is a finalist in the “CONNECT” category.)