SoMoCoCAT Offers Latino Farmworker Communities Free Digital Media Training

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Grassroots organization, South Monterey County Center for Arts & Technology (, is offering digital media workshops for the first time in Monterey County's 'salad bowl of the world." A 'lettuce curtain' isolates residents of rural Salinas Valley from opportunities in a 21st century creative workforce.  SoMoCoCAT has therefore started a movement to cross the a 'digital divide' and part the 'lettuce curtain" to bring free arts and technology training to underserved, mostly Latino, agricultural communities in South Monterey County.

SoMoCoCAT recently crossed the 'digital divide' to introduce arts and technology training to residents in Monterey County's rural communities south of the 'lettuce curtain.' Until now there were no outlets where local residents could learn the digital media technology skills that are increasingly in demand among employers.

Communities in South Monterey County suffer from problems such as poverty, drug use, high unemployment and school dropout rates, gang violence, and few employment and education options. Lack of transportation and limited English skills further prevent many South County residents from attending training programs that are located 25-35 miles away.

Director of SoMoCoCAT ( Megan Heath, works for L-3 GS&ES Language Technology Services in Monterey, California, a company that employs artists and designers who use digital technology to create instructional materials.   Heath is also involved in Monterey County economic development efforts that capitalize on local creativity and technology ( "I know first hand that there are viable career opportunities for people who know how to blend art and technology to earn a living, but we have a hard time finding well-qualified candidates in [the Monterey] area," says Heath.  She believes that "if we really want to develop a strong creative economy in Monterey County, we must invest in the tremendous human potential that lies in the oft neglected South County."  

Heath created SoMoCoCAT in 2008 after she produced a media project that explored the socioeconomic division between the Salinas Valley and the rest of Monterey County that is sometimes referred to as the 'lettuce curtain."  She vowed to bring digital media training with an emphasis on career development, directly to these communities at no cost to the students.

Sara Papineau, from the Gonzales Parks and Recreation Department sees SoMoCoCAT  as good for the community.  "Anytime we can offer free quality programs to our residents both young and old we enhance the quality of their life.  The classes that SoMoCoCAT are offering in South Monterey County are opening people's minds through creativity and diversifying their interests," she says.

Among South County's farmworker communities many do not have computers, or if so they often find the unfamiliar technology intimidating.  Dr. Drew Waters at California State University Monterey Bay's Music and Performing Arts Department, volunteered to teach a SoMoCoCAT audio recording workshop for South County teens.  He believes this project "demystifies the technology and literally puts it under the hands for those people that can be most creative with it and benefit most from it in their future." 

SoMoCoCAT has already implemented several workshops--in Spanish and in English--and they are planning more.  So far the workshops have been possible due to many volunteer hours, two small grants, and modest corporate support from technology training firm, QuarterPoint, Inc., and L-3.

SoMoCoCAT's current workshops in South Monterey County include:

  •      Digital Photography for adults in Gonzales; 
  •      Animation for students of Frank Ledesma Elementary School in Soledad;
  •      Audio and Video Production for South County youth at the California State University Monterey Bay;
  •      Mobile Audio Recording Studio Workshop at Greenfield High School;
  •      PowerPoint and Microsoft Word Workshops in Gonzales.

Principal of Greenfield High, Rudy Garcia, allowed SoMoCoCAT to extend its mobile audio workshop for a week after he saw great interest among his students.  "It was amazing how excited the kids were when they stepped in the studio and heard themselves on the headphones," said Peter Meuse, owner and instructor of the mobile recording studio.  

Tara Vikjord, the 21st Century and After School Programs coordinator for the Soledad Unified School district in South County said of the animation workshop that SoMoCoCAT brought to one of her elementary schools:  "It was wonderful.  The kids were very engaged and the parents were happy."  Animation teacher and artist, Andrew Dolan, said the experience was "awesome" and he thought the students seemed "so hungry for something creative to do."  Jacob Ruelas, Director of the Center for Employment training in Soledad agreed when he said, "let's get these kids off the street and doing art."  

Simon Salinas, Monterey County Third District Supervisor sees the benefit that SoMoCoCAT offfers South County, especially for  young people.  "Investing in our youth today will return great dividends by strengthening our community in the future," says Salinas.

For Heath, SoMoCoCAT's future is a self-sufficient social enterprise that is a pillar of Monterey County's thriving creative economy. In the mean time they continue to seek 'investors' and community supporters who believe in that same future.

The South Monterey County Center for Arts & Technology (SoMoCoCAT) is a workforce investment initiative of the Monterey County Business Council's Creative Technology Competitive Cluster program (  SoMoCoCAT provides digital media arts, technology training and access to South Monterey County's rural Latino communities.  SoMoCoCAT fosters 'digital inclusion' and enables equal opportunities for residents to contribute to Monterey County's emerging creative economy.  For more information visit: Media Contact:  Megan Heath, (831) 869-6055


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