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More performing arts space to be built Downtown

By Omar Shamout
Published: Friday, June 15, 2012, at 04:08PM

Actors perform a scene from the Cornerstone Theater Company production of Café Vida, which was produced in conjunction with Homeboy Industries. (Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Theater Company).

The future is bright for performing arts in Los Angeles, according to the head of communications for ArtPlace, a national collaboration of foundations, federal agencies and banks that doled out $1.5 million in funding for L.A.-based artistic endeavors this week.

Tim Halbur, ArtPlace’s director of communications, said L.A. grant recipients were unique amongst the applicant pool in their commitment to the medium of theater - a characteristic that not even New York City’s three award recipients could claim.

“It’s interesting when you look at these [L.A.-based] projects – They are largely performing arts based, which is something that is not true across the country,” Halbur said.

ArtPlace evaluated almost 2,200 applications from all 50 states, but Los Angeles received the most individual grants of any city in the country, with three of the four projects receiving grants located Downtown. All of the projects there deal with the performing arts in some way, which Halbur said is a great way to establish an even more vibrant cultural scene in the area.

“Performing arts can create a synergy that attracts people to neighborhoods. People think, ‘If I go this neighborhood, I will always find something fun to do,” he said.

The Broadway Arts Center received $470,000 – the largest single amount of the bunch – and will use part of the cash to build a black box theater, which is a type of large, unadorned room used for experimental productions. The money will also pay for an art gallery, creative commercial space and affordable housing for artists along the avenue famous for its grandiose, yet long-defunct movie theaters.

Two new public performance spaces will also be built on the campus of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, including a 750-seat outdoor amphitheater and a smaller indoor amphitheater. Also in the works is a 99-seat black box theater that will be operated by the school in the soon-to-be-built One Santa Fe complex adjacent to its 3rd Street campus. Sci-Arc, which received $400,000, will look to partner with local theater groups when creating programming for all three venues.

The Cornerstone Theater Company, located on Traction Avenue, will also receive $342,000 in funding that it will use to produce the “Hunger Cycle,” a series of plays over six years that will chronicle issues relating to hunger and food throughout California. The first play in the cycle, “Café Vida,” closed in May and was produced in collaboration with Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries. Future productions will tour the state and be presented in communities directly affected by the subject matter of the play.

The company’s Fall 2012 production is called “Urban/Rural,” and deals with issues relating to agriculture. Cornerstone’s associate director of development, Sabrina Sikes Thornton, said the grant money would be used to further “contextualize” the shows.

“We hope that with this money from ArtPlace that we’ll be able to perform this play in a non-traditional place, maybe in a community garden or in the middle of a farm somewhere,” Thornton said.

She said the group would also like to hire gardeners and chefs to teach audience members how to grow, preserve and prepare healthy food. Cornerstone also plans to organize a farmers market in the community where the show is staged in an effort to “create economic connections that will last well after the show has closed.”

Thornton said the theater community in Los Angeles is forward-thinking in its desire to tackle big societal problems head on.

“L.A. is creating art that’s really responsive to the issues we’re seeing on the national and local scene,” Thornton said, adding that the city is “creating theater that is really trying to speak to different communities … and speak to its audience while having an open conversation.”

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