It’s easy to sound hyperbolic when explaining a place like Inner-City Arts. There’s a specialness that pervades all aspects of the organization. Instantly, the bright white and thoroughly modern exterior reigns gorgeously amongst the neighboring Industrial Revolution architecture. What once housed a car repair garage, has blossomed into a five building campus nestled around a thriving urban oasis replete with a park-like setting of plants and trees; where a pomegranate harvest is hotly coveted. Most importantly, it’s a place where the children of the county’s schools where no arts programs exist can be surrounded by, touch, and incorporate the garden’s beauty in their art. “It’s here for them”, says Geoffrey Anenberg, Vice Chair of the board.
It’s here, in a part of Los Angeles that sits on the edge of an often fraught dichotomy of revitalization and poverty, where creative culture is often born and bred. This is, and will be increasingly so, a hive of world changing output. As Mr. Anenberg frankly says, “If one is going to come into this neighborhood and do radically high-end, culturally progressive, and thoughtful stuff while creating one of the greatest creative economies in the world...we must create as many points of overlap and impact. You’re kind of an asshole if you don’t engage a little bit.” This is an organization whose reach to some 50+ elementary schools within a six mile radius is amazing alone, “It is the only one of its kind in the country,” says Anenberg. In 1989, professional artist and juggernaut Bob Bates, along with co- founder Irwin Jaeger, opened the first iteration of Inner-City Arts at 9th Street Elementary school. By then, art education programs had been decimated in California, so a non-pro t organization whose sole purpose was to bring arts to school children in a marginalized environment was sorely needed. Later, due to a sizable grant from the Mark Taper Foundation, they to moved to the dedicated campus on Kohler Street. The need has never diminished, so the facilities continue to grow. Recently, supported by The Walt Disney Company, The Creativity Lab was born. Imagineers regularly come for “world building” sessions with the kids. “It’s all about creativity. It’s all about exploration. Making things. Building things,” Bob explains with excitement. “They are learning how to make mistakes and improve and be successful.”
Now, Inner-City serves up to 7,000 children annually. This is done by coordinating bussing during the school day to the facility with the Los Angeles Uni ed School District. Students receive in-depth instruction twice a week for 14-16 week sessions in the visual arts (including media), dance, music, and theatre. “The place is electric when those kids get off that bus,” beamed Anenberg. There are after-school and weekend programs for middle and high school students as well. There are teacher professional development series, art workshops for adults, and family weekend institutes. These are all taught by professional teaching artists in enviable studio spaces. The ceramics studio includes strategically placed wheels along a floor-to-waist window so those using them will have the garden as a background to their work. The media arts studio offers digital photography, graphic design, lm production and animation.
They do this with no endowment and no major government funding whatsoever, and they do it extraordinarily well. So well, in fact, that partnerships from all of the city have developed in response. Community theater organizations such as the Watt’s Theatre Company utilize the space, even the newly opened Broad museum has started a partnership with the elementary program. In collaboration with CalArts Community Arts Partnership, a two-semester animation workshop is offered for high school students. A training kitchen was established for a vocational training partnership with Tender Greens for foster kids. The magnanimity seems endless!
This is all funded by individual and institutional donors who recognize that this as a jewel of an organization connecting, adapting, and catalyzing for the needs of a dynamic community. To raise both awareness and funds, ICA hosts world class events like the upcoming 10th Annual Summer on Seventh, on Saturday, July 16. Anenberg describes it, “The concert will house somewhere around 1,500 people. Partnerships are offering the best of the food, art, and music scene that’s happening on the east side. Where people of all ages and culturally engaged can come hang out, feel the energy of this campus for themselves. When you’re here that night, having a killer time, and realize all the amazing things that go on here, you can’t help but open your wallets because every penny goes right back into programming, teaching staff supplies, and more fundraising.”
Written by Alix Fournier
Photographed by Samantha Romero