Venice art installation is a stark reminder of the 14,000 immigrant youth in U.S. detention camps

By Kelby Vera

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, photos on milk cartons raised public awareness about children who had gone missing. A two-story polycarbonate Plexiglas milk carton art installation recently erected on Venice Beach contains 14,000 smaller cartons, each representing a child currently being held in a U.S. detention center by immigration officials.

The piece titled “14,000 Missing Childhoods and Counting” is a project of 72U, a nonprofit creative residency funded by the Playa Vista-based ad agency 72andSunny. Over the past year, the number of immigrant children detained in the U.S. — at taxpayer cost of as much as $750 per child, according to The New York Times — has grown exponentially from about 2,400 to 14,000, a figure that shakes 72U Residency Director Traecy Smith to her core.

“We had to focus on immigrant children because it’s one of the most preeminent human rights issues of our day,” Smith said of the current residency.

The translucent, neon light-lined milk carton looms over Windward Plaza, drawing viewers in to read etchings on each box that represent aspects of child-
hood taken from detained immigrant youth: words such as “Dad,” “Freedom,” “Pets” and “Future.”

72U residents Ginger Quintanilla, Taylor Alley, Tyler Hicks, Daniel Kim, Federico Zoppei, Jacqueline Miller, Raja Man, Wale Agboola, and Cristina Marquez came together to develop the idea, which came to fruition with the help of the public art nonprofit Now Art LA.

“It was done in a very pure and holistic way,” Smith said. “This is an item on every table in America and every family is aware of the milk carton and what it symbolizes, so that’s why we made the choice. This is a symbol that a child is in trouble and that we need to do something about it.”

The art piece encourages viewers to engage with the issue via a QR code that links to a website created for the project. Visitors to can sign an electronic petition, link to organizations such as the ACLU and Kids In Need of Defense, and share campaign artwork on social media.

“14,000 Missing Childhoods And Counting” will remain at Windward Plaza through Dec. 7, with an effort to extend that date already in the works.