Altars at Dia de Los Muertos

Antioch’s Ofrenda

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Día de Los Muertos, Gloria Molina Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles fills with altars to the dead. This year, the altars included one honoring Antiochians who have passed away. Titled “Listening to the Wisdom of the Ancestors,” the ofrenda featured framed photographs of these treasured alumni and faculty along with traditional marigolds and intricately decorated skulls. 

The creation of Antioch’s altar was spearheaded by Julie Rodriguez ’09 (Los Angeles, MA in Psychology). She worked with the curator of the entire altar project, Consuelo Flores ’06, ’08 (Los Angeles, BA, MFA), an artist, writer, and advocate who has been making altars since she was a teenager. Flores and Rodriguez first came together when Flores presented to Messy Conversations, a regular series of talks where Antiochians come together over Zoom to discuss issues relating to anti-racism and racial justice. During that talk, Rodriguez, who today works as a Program Coordinator for the MA in Psychology, was struck by one phrase of Flores’s in particular: “The dead help the living with social justice.”

Altars at Dia de Los Muertos

This concept resonated with her grief over the senseless death last January of Keenan Anderson ’22 (Los Angeles, MEd). Anderson died in the custody of the LAPD after being brutally restrained and tased, and his death touched off another wave of grief and protest around the way police in the U.S. disproportionately harm and murder Black people. In the aftermath of his death, Rodriguez says she felt that, as a fellow Antiochian, “It was as if a family member had died.” So she reached out to Flores about making an ofrenda honoring Anderson. “It seemed appropriate to have Keenan the focal person for the altar,” she says, “and to highlight one of the main values of Antioch University—social justice.”

Others pitched in to make the altar a success. Joe Stadler, a retired Electrical Craftsman for LA’s Department of Water and Power, built the architectural structure. Celina Jacques, an adjunct faculty member in the MA in Psychology, co-curated the art installation. Jacques is an art therapist and curandera, so she consulted on the Indigenous elements of the altar. The larger Antioch community in Los Angeles participated by making paper flowers and plaster of paris skulls in workshops provided on campus.  

Altars at Dia de Los Muertos

Hundreds of Angelenos visited the altar over the weeks it was up, and thousands more heard about it on local and international news. It was enough of a success that there are already plans in the works to make another altar next year. Rodriguez says, “My hope is that the altar as an art installation stirred something within the observer and provided an introduction to what Antioch Los Angeles stands for in providing education. ‘Education is democracy’ was the quote I utilized from Horace Mann. This is one of our foundations at Antioch University and quite appropriate.” 

Read our recent profile of Consuelo Flores on Common Thread.