Reclaiming the Idea of Youth Through Art and Activism: A Discussion with Junior High’s Eden Hain

Photo Courtesy of Faye Orlove.

The greater Los Angeles area is widely regarded as a center for artistic culture, which allows for young people around the area to access the various art and music scenes that are scattered throughout the city. However, spaces that are truly for young people, or for people of diverse backgrounds, are actually fairly hard to come across in spite of the vast size of the region.

This is where Junior High, a space located in Hollywood, comes in. Founded by animator and illustrator Faye Orlove in 2016, with a focus on highlighting the voices of marginalized individuals and youth, it has become a place for art galleries, concerts, community gatherings, classes, and more. Eden Hain, 21 years old, now helps manage the space, which is located just down the street from where they grew up. Outside of working at Junior High, they also make music with their band The Love-Inns.

I had the opportunity to interview Hain within the space of Junior High itself. While discussing the work Junior High has set out to do, we also delved further into the concepts of representation in the Los Angeles music and arts scene, internet activism, being an artist and an activist post-2016 election, and the importance of having spaces for young people to grow and learn, both as artists and as people.

M: How would you describe your position here?

E: I’m basically the ruler of the calendar, and I email people about the details of booking stuff. Faye, the founder of Junior High, will basically field through everything and pick what she wants to be in the space, and I’ll organize that by putting it in the calendar, and make sure people involved understand how we’re dividing money. That is, if the proceeds aren’t going to charity. I basically take care of the finer details and watch over the space.

M: So how did you first get involved with Junior High?

E: Before Junior High had its brick and mortar, my best friend Rhiannon knew about Faye because of Rookie Mag, and she ran into Faye soon after Faye moved here. Faye told Rhiannon about how she wanted to start a youth art space in L.A., and she mentioned the fundraiser they were having for it. So, Rhiannon told me, and my other best friend Ariela, like, “Hey we should go and get in on the ground floor,” and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

M: And when was that?

E: This was three years ago. And, I’ve just been here ever since. I’ve really actually only started hardcore volunteering this year. Before, I had friends that would volunteer here, and I’d just sit behind the desk and help take money or explain the ethos of the space, but I didn’t do anything really or have keys yet. I just hung out.

M: So, you were in high school then, though, when you first got involved? E: Yes, I was a senior in high school!

M: And at the time, you probably didn’t really know it would manifest into being here how you are now?

E: No, I always hoped it would happen, because I looked up to Faye so much, and all of the things that she was doing. She was just such a cool and relatable and nice person. I was like, “How do you maintain such an effective space and not pull out your hair all the time?” It’s admirable, I still don’t know how she does it. But, she does like, 99 percent of the things you see going on here, like everything you can see here is stuff Faye has her fingers in. Except for like, literally the art that goes up on the walls, but she’ll even like, hammer the nails in.

M: You’re still obviously a very young person, but getting started with this when you were in high school, was this space specifically appealing for you in the idea that it is for young artists?

E: Yeah, that was a really big priority for me. I was even talking to my friends the other day, because I’m about to turn 21, and I’m so positive that I’m not even going to want to play at 21 plus shows, or attend 21 plus shows, because I think art and music are so universal that there’s no reason why it should be behind an age wall, or even a pay wall, even though of course I believe artists should be compensated. But, I especially think it shouldn’t be limited to a certain age, or just to people who will contribute to the beer sales.

M: Yeah, and that always confuses me too, because it’s like, pretty much any place you go to, whether it’s a small venue or Staples center, they’re selling alcohol, so using that as a way to limit who can get into a show at places sometimes is weird to me. It’s like, if you’re an underage person who wants to go, why can’t they just put an X on your hand? If a younger person wants to go, it’s probably because they want to see the show. If they wanted alcohol, they’d have other means of doing that than trying to get into a concert. E: Yeah, exactly, so having a youth-oriented space was extremely vital to me, and being apart of it. Because, basically, there used to be a couple more…there used to be Pehrspace, but that closed down, and now the people that ran it do a monthly show Downtown, I think. And then there’s The Smell, which is also really good, but kind of elitist and it kind of has this extreme smoking culture?

M: Yeah, and I would say too, The Smell can sometimes be a bit ruled by the boys of the music scene. I mean, there are definitely female and LGBTQ+ artists that play there, but sometimes there’s just an overriding feeling of masculinity.

E: It’s super masculine, yeah. I mean, I used to go to The Smell all the time, but I do think Junior High does do the best job at providing the necessary safe feeling in a space for young people.

M: Yeah, I think the thing is that a lot of places become a space for young people because that’s just what it manifests into, whereas Junior High was built on the idea of being for young people. I also think the mission statement of this space has a lot of power, which is, “Through our physical space and quarterly publication, Junior High is dedicated to showcasing the artistic pursuits of marginalized voices. We believe that representation, civic engagement, and exposure to overlooked narratives fosters strong & empowered communities and individuals. We believe that radical acceptance will change the world.” So, can you elaborate more on how the space and the publication attempts to live out this mission statement?

E: Yeah, it’s kind of difficult to explain, because what the mission statement says really explains it so well. So, delving more into it…it can just be difficult to explain. I think that putting out the magazine was really crucial for getting people involved in what Junior High is doing outside of Los Angeles. And, I think the reason that Faye started this place was because she wanted to do something bigger than outside where she was living in Massachusetts.

So, I hope that people like, see the magazine and see what we’re doing on Instagram and take it bigger than what we’re doing in L.A. and take it to like, San Francisco or Milwaukee. Just expanding the idea and even making it better, because it’s obviously not perfect here. I see lots of criticism, and people come up to me all the time and say like “Why do you do this?” or like “Hey, this happened,” and I always try to hear them out and hope that if we can’t do it the best, someone else can do it even better and somewhere else, and we can learn from everyone.

M: That’s really good, because a lot of people wouldn’t take that criticism how you and Junior High take it because other people or spaces might feel very sure that they are doing the best.

E: Yeah, as opposed to like, “We’re doing the best, and we can do the better than the best.” I remember there was an event I was working, and someone was talking about accessibility in all places, but then brought it back to here, and even brought up how in Junior High, it’s hard to get to the bathroom if say, you’re in a wheelchair. So, I think about that stuff a lot too, and even like setting up chairs specifically for people who are disabled, for people who can’t walk very far, so they can get in and get out quickly.

 

M: That’s really good to keep that all in mind, because oftentimes, amongst a lot of identities, physical disabilities get overlooked a lot when spaces are set up. Going back to what you were saying about Junior High spreading outside of L.A., would you imagine that as Junior High having branches in different places, or do you see people getting inspired by Junior High and starting their own space somewhere?

E: Yeah, it’s so interesting, because as much as I dream about an empire for Junior High, I also like the idea of people making more spaces. The thing that I was looking for most when I was 16, was just like, being able to go to more places, or booking more shows for my band. It would be like, “Well, we played Junior High the last four times, and The Smell the last two times,” just like, going back and forth between the same venues, either because we don’t have enough pull for some places or because we don’t want to pay to play.

 

So, as much as I want a Junior High empire, I want everyone to start their own venue, and I want everyone to find their own storefront and start their own… not even their own Junior High, but their own, whatever they think needs to be in their neighborhood. There just needs to be more art everywhere.

M: It’s really interesting to me because I feel like in L.A., when you grow up in one area, it can have a completely different culture from another area in L.A. This kind of makes me think about how, I mean it does exist in other places, but in L.A. specifically there is a big culture of having backyard shows for music, art and more. Do you think there’s power in that, and that it’s a way for young artists to get going with showcasing their stuff, and even a way to get them to start imagining their own Junior High kind of space?

E: I remember watching this documentary when I was in high school about how there was this whole Chicano punk culture that was based around backyard shows, and there were these bands that had hundreds, maybe even thousands of fans, that would go to these backyard shows because it was pretty much the only places they could play at, obviously because of some element of racism towards Latinx people.

So, backyard shows are extraordinarily important. However, I remember playing backyard shows, and they’d be getting getting shut down five minutes after we closed up shop. So, I mean, as much as I think that backyard shows are crucial to the L.A. scene, or young people making music in general, it is far more validating to have a space, and I want Junior High to put on louder shows like what plays at backyard shows, but we are also a small space. But really, just more big spaces that’ll take chances on kids that want to get their aggression out, that’s just a very important thing. Kids need to be validated in that way, where they can just like, scream into a microphone.

M: Yeah, and backyard shows, they can be really powerful, and they can grow, but I do feel like sometimes there can be a cap on it, and it starts to become the same cycle of people because they’re in that one neighborhood.

E: And also, a lot of times, the ones throwing the backyard shows are the rich kids who have parents that aren’t there, or they have big, vacant homes. So, there is still an element of classism, because if you’re not friends with the rich kids, you’re not gonna be invited to the parties, or invited to throw the parties, or to be part of the show.

M: That makes me think about how, while it does vary, there are a lot of bands in Los Angeles that sometimes seem to get more traction when some of the band members are people with really rich, privileged backgrounds. I feel like that helps them get more into some spaces, because they can just get more opportunities with money and the connections money can give. So, would you say in the arts and music scene, there can be an element of classism overall, and that it’s easy for people who have money to get more exposure than people who don’t?

E: Yeah, I mean, to be in a band costs a lot of money. I mean, to buy a guitar costs money. And then what guitar are you playing? Because there’s going to be notions of clout attached to like, are you playing a Rickenbacker, or are you playing a Squire? And, it shouldn’t be about how much money you have. It should be about what you have to say, but it is like you have to buy all the equipment, and you have to pay for power, or your parents have to pay for power. It’s so much.

 

And then, on top of that, there are venues who insist on you paying something like $400 so that you can play there. And it’s like “I just spent thousands of dollars to set up my garage so I could write my fucking feelings out, and now you’re going to make me pay more to play?” And it’s so difficult, because establishments have to make money, you know, they have pay rent, but it’s like damn, there has to be some better way to do this.

M: Yes, and going off of that, the L.A. arts and music scene, which can be really great, not only has issues in terms of maybe favoring those with money, but some people can also find it to sometimes feel exclusive, misogynistic or elitist, or just not open to a lot of people of different identities. So, has Junior High actively wanted to combat this and make for a more inclusive scene for people of many varying identities and backgrounds in comparison to other spaces in L.A., or in the arts scene in general, and if so, how?

E: Yeah, I mean, obviously, we’re a space with an aesthetic, and I think that Faye has really great taste, so we’re always looking for new art and new music to go into the space that fits in line with our aesthetic and our eye. But, that’s predominantly not from white people, and it’s almost never men, and especially never cis white men. I’m always surprised when I see cis white men in the space. Really, I don’t even remember the last time we had a man artist come through here. But, the last exhibition we had was called “Boys Will Be Boys”, which was a look at masculinity through the lens of…what’s a good way of saying it…not rejecting femininity?”

M: Kind of critiquing hypermasculinity?

E: Yeah, and seeing that it is not bad to be a man, and it is not bad to be cis, but that you can be these things and not be an inherently toxic presence. And I invite men to come to the space, as long as they are not being inherently toxic presences.

M: Right, I think that kind of brings up certain issues, like the misconception about feminism not including men, when it in many ways is also about them and defeating the expectations of masculinity. But, there’s a lack of understanding of that, and that lack of understanding is the root of so many problems, because the movement isn’t against men, it can also be for men in a way, but they have to be on board with these ideas and be more aware of the issues that can exist in how they present themselves and how they interact with the world.

E: Yeah, and it’s also like, if something isn’t for you, that doesn’t mean you can’t admire it. And, just because something’s not for you, you shouldn’t objectify it or other it. Like, Solange’s music, which is not made for me, you know, I can’t relate to a lot of it because I’m white, but I can agree with the sentiment of it and see that people are their own and that they deserve to not be objectified. And, I think that’s just really it, I think this space just encourages people to be individualistic and not objectified, and anyone can come through as long as they agree with that statement, and that we should throw our money to art.

 

M: Yeah, and I think there’s a line of making yourself aware, but also knowing your place. I think people think, “Oh, it doesn’t have to do with me so I’m not going to care about it,” or they just don’t understand the line in general.

E: It is possible to be a good ally, just as long as you don’t expect a pat on the back everytime you’re being a good ally. And it’s like, I’ll buy a ticket to see Solange and I’ll go see her, but I won’t take up other people’s space, because there are people who identify that music as what really speaks to them, and I want to listen to their story. And, I love hearing other people’s stories and narratives, that’s just what life is all about. It’s about experiencing art and listening to other people’s opinions about it, and sharing connections and stories.

M: So, with the variety of events that are held at Junior High, which includes galleries, concerts, or even special events, such as the gardening classes that were here awhile ago, or the Scholastic Book Fair just recently, how do you see the forms of expression involved here, like music or fine art or discussion, intersecting with activism, or making a social political statement?

E: I think the most important thing about having a physical space like this is that you can physically see people who are also interested in the things that you’re interested in, if that makes sense. Like, if you go out to a Black Lives Matter rally, it connects those people who go together, and it connects it to the hashtag on the internet. So, I think that Junior High is a way of saying that we care about youth, we care about art, we care about seeing a more complex view of men, we care about seeing a more complex view on non-binary people and trans people and disabled people, we care about a view on comedy that isn’t straight, cis, and male.

M: With that being said, I think that ever since the 2016 election with Trump becoming president, there are lots of artists that are using their work more and more to deal with their emotions about what’s going on in the current social/political climate, and to also fight what’s going on. Would you say that since then, shows here and the art within it have had this element more present?

E: Yeah, like I was saying before, being able to see people in real life, face-to-face, is really crucial to knowing that the things you care about are valid. While there is a sense of you know, Twitter activism, and almost like shouting things into a void, it’s nice to have something that isn’t a void. Even just right now, talking to you, is really affirming. So, I think in this space, the things people make and show, even if it isn’t directly about the President or the government, there still might be a line or one thing they do that does make them think about those things, and that is in itself, a form of expressing yourself… how can I say this?

Okay, I remember talking to my friend about how your endorphin levels are impacted when you text people, and when you put your phone down, you’re happy, and it’s almost like you’re happy for no reason? Like, you put your phone down and you stare at a wall, and you’re like, “I have nowhere to put this energy”. I feel like that’s what a lot of people feel when they tweet like, “Fuck the President,” and then they just sit there and look at a wall. It’s not the same as if I’m like, sitting here looking at you and saying that and you can agree. It feels like we’re absorbing something then, like it isn’t just chaotic energy being put out into the universe. Just talking about it and having someone else be like, “Yes, I hear you” feels constructive. And I think that’s how a lot of people feel at Junior High, where it doesn’t have to be explicitly about anything, but just making art in this time, and then presenting it in front of other people, it is a way of saying like, the energy is no longer chaotic. It is being focused directly into you, and because you’re listening to it, it is being validated.

M: Right, so then, with the idea of internet activism, specifically through social media, is it enough on its own, or does there need to be real life action to be truly effective?

E: I think that internet activism is not enough on its own. I think it’s about the way that you practice the things that you read, or the things that you say, every single day. It’s not new for people to write their feelings of unhappiness with the administration. People were writing that in articles, people were writing that in books. That’s not new, and we’re doing that still to this day.

So, it is not bad to tweet out your feelings, and it is not bad to tweet out articles, and it is not bad to read articles and books, but it’s just that you need to combine that with something physical, which can be really difficult, and I admire anyone who has the courage to go out into the streets and put their body on the line.

M: Do you think it’s sort of the instantaneous quality of social media that also comes into play here? Because, as you were saying, sometimes you have stuff you just want to put out there, and social media provides everyone with a way to do it so easily. And while it’s like, you could post something that does make a good statement and tells a lot of truth, nothing substantial may come from it if it isn’t paired with something physical. But, do you think it’s the instantaneous aspect of these outlets that then can make it so people can easily not want to put more tangible effort in?

E: Well, I would say, like immediately, I never thought of this before you said what you just said right now. But, another thing that is exactly as instantaneous is going onto websites of organizations like Planned Parenthood and donating even just a dollar. It’s like, the exact same amount of effort you’d put into a tweet, you know? And it has real, tangible benefits. Or, even if you wanted to do a little bit of research and find the smaller abortion clinics in your area, or smaller organizations helping immigrants in your area, and donating money to them. And you don’t even have to tweet about it, you can just take that receipt, and you will know what you did, and you can give that receipt to your tax guy, and he’ll know too!

M: Yeah, and the thing is, social media can be great in that it can make people more aware and make more discussion happen. But, at the same time, there can be a thing where people, more specifically I’d say liberal white people, might put posts out there about issues and about equality, and while they might believe what is in the posts, there can also be an element of kind of doing it for the appearance of it. In the sense that there might be a quality of, “Hey, look at me, I’m a good white person.” I myself am a white person, so this observation comes from that perspective. So, do you think, in this context, social media activism can also have a sense of self-absorption?

E: I definitely think there’s a balance between staying silent and never speaking on various matters, and not having to tell everyone like, “I donated $20 dollars to Planned Parenthood this year, ‘cause I’m such a kind person.” It’s like, I don’t have a lot of money, but I will give money to organizations that I believe are doing tangible good, and if anyone comes up to me and is like “Why aren’t you talking about this?”, I can say, “Well, I am helping, I just don’t feel like I need to be putting it on blast”, because I know who’s reading my posts, and I know they’re agreeing with me. So what’s the point in me being like, “I did this incredible thing! I think racism is bad! Don’t you? Applaud me!” It’s like, that isn’t necessary. But, that’s also just in my circle. I do want celebrities and famous people to use their platform to tell people to like, put your money towards this organization, or to pay attention to a diverse TV show. Like, telling their followers “I’m doing good, and so can you!”

M: That’s interesting, because I think it is important for celebrities to speak out, but then I also think about how when activism, maybe even a sense of arts activism, exists in really high levels of pop culture, there sometimes can be a thing where it seems like certain movements, like say, the feminist movement, get marketed and capitalized off of, and the real issues aren’t even acknowledged.

E: Absolutely! I mean, to say there isn’t an issue with feminism and capitalism becoming kind of intertwined, it’s like, how could someone not see that? It’s been an issue for quite some time. I mean, some people really do want to express their feelings by saying like, “Consent is sexy” and putting it on a t-shirt.

M: Do you mean how at places like Forever 21 they’ll have shirts that say something like “#Feminist” on it?

E: Yeah, and it’s like, I’d be more inclined to buy a shirt that says something like “Consent is Sexy” if my friend made that shirt, but yeah, when a huge corporation like Forever 21 is not paying people who work in sweatshops to make shirts that say like, “I’m a feminist”, it’s like, what? Where’s the actual uplifting women when you’re not paying women, and you’re using children, to make your feminist t-shirts?

M: Yeah, that’s a whole point right there too, just the fact that so many intersecting issues of the feminist movement come into play when creating that shirt. Also, speaking more on the idea of activism in pop culture, it seems nowadays that the younger generation of celebrities, as well as young people in general, are more politically and socially engaged. While social media contributes to this growth, do you also think it can lead to critiques that are too harsh on young people?

E: I think, for me, I’m not really going to get mad at like, a fifteen-year-old? And, that’s not to say that you can’t have an impact on people’s lives at that age. I just think it’s like, allow people to grow. That’s the moral. Allow young people to have the space to be wrong, and also to grow from that. I think it’s crazy to think about how like, you’re living constantly, and it’s exhausting and funny and weird and awkward, and it’s totally serious. So, for people to not take young people seriously by saying like, “Whatever, you’re just 15,” that’s totally harmful. But, it’s also like, let people come to their own conclusions on their own.

M: What you’re saying is a good point of basically allowing young people to have a platform and encouraging them to be involved, but also giving them the room to be wrong, because the expectation of having to be perfect in order to get involved can be scary for young people.

E: To bring it back to Junior High, I would love if more young people would come here, because at the moment, our demographic is kind of around 18-30. I went to my old high school the other day, and I was really trying to encourage the artists to pitch a show to us, because we could do that and put it up on the walls for a weekend. I think it’s important that young people are told that their work and what they’re doing is valid, and that other people look at that art and absorb it. So then, they can think, “Okay, I did that, what can I do next?”

I want more young people to have spaces to put their things on display, and to have that not be the end goal, but for that to be just the beginning. So, I think Junior High can be like a jumping off point. I mean, that’s literally what it is in the education system. It’s where you hit puberty, and then you’re just sort of supposed to come at the world.

M: So is that where the name Junior High comes from, in a way? I always thought the name was interesting, because “junior high” is a phrase that is just so potent with feelings for people. For me, junior high was one of the worst times in my life, and yet there’s still sort of a weird sense of nostalgia in the phrase. I know Faye was the creator of it, but is there an origin story to the name, or can you elaborate more on what it might mean to you or other people?

E: Yeah, I think junior high is like a space of metamorphosis, and it’s super weird and uncomfortable. But, the reason I’m pretty sure it’s called Junior High is that it’s a way of reclaiming the trauma of junior high, and allowing experiences in your life to be reclaimed. I have this friend who wrote this incredible poem about she had four first kisses, because she didn’t like the first one, and she didn’t like the second one, and she decided she wanted her first kiss to be a magical experience, so it wouldn’t actually happen until it was that for her. She was like, “I’m going to decide that because it is my life, and who’s to say that I can’t have the best life that I want.”

M: That’s really cool, I really like the idea of reclaiming something in that way. Especially in the context of this space, and reclaiming the idea of youth and what that can mean. I don’t want to say that being young should be awful and awkward, but I think those elements are a part of growing up, so the idea of seeing it as a time to make art out of, and almost then gaining a sense of power from it, is really impactful to me. So, to wrap up the conversation and connect a lot of different things we’ve been discussing, you mentioned how you want more truly young people to come to Junior High, and how it can be intimidating as a young person to be more active in different spaces because they’re so often invalidated on the basis of their age. So, do you have any thoughts on how we can get more young people to be in spaces such as Junior High, or just in the areas of arts and activism in general?

E: I think I would love it if more people would put less pressure on being right, and more on positive reinforcement and empathy. I just remember so much of when I was young and in high school, it was less about what’s going on with you today, and more about how many pages your essay was. And how many notes did you take? And you still got a C? I was always able to foster really good connections, and not foster very good grades. So, I think while things feel kind of forced when you’re young and in school, just know that you’re going to grow and it’s going to end, and life is going to move on, but it doesn’t mean the things you do aren’t important, and that the connections you make aren’t important. And, you should treat everyone with respect and empathy.

M: Yeah, I think the thing is there’s this idea in society that you’re waiting for your life to start once you hit 18 and go to college, which isn’t everyone’s path anyway. But, that general notion creates this feeling of nothing mattering when you’re younger than that, and I feel like, being in high school or junior high should definitely not be the best time in your life, and it may be awful in a lot of ways, but it can still have a lot of importance, because those years can really shape who you are. I think that’s kind of the idea here, how you’ve talked about the name of Junior High and the space striving to reclaim that time in life, and even giving it a different meaning than most people think.

E: Yeah, your life does not start at 18, it starts when your born, and it doesn’t stop until it stops. So, I think the main thing is to be aware of the impact that you have, because you can always do something every single day, as long as you want to do it.

To keep up with the work Junior High is doing, follow @juniorhighla on Instagram and Twitter.

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