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Without creativity we may all become 'extinct,' says Inner-City Arts co-founder

By Hayley Fox
Published: Friday, August 03, 2012, at 04:08PM

On Friday, students were building their own robots as part of the summer school activities.

In the midst of DTLA's Skid Row, a one-acre, hidden campus full of foliage and art projects has inner-city kids building sculptures, making drums and experimenting with science.

Inner-City Arts, a more than 20-year-old nonprofit organization, brings arts and creative development to at-risk kids in Los Angeles. Bob Bates, co-founder and artistic director of the organization, said the idea came to him from a higher power.

"About 26 or [27] years ago, I had a vision while I was meditating in my studio in downtown Los Angeles in an artist loft, and this vision said to get an arts space for kids," said Bates.

Inner-City has been up-and-running for more than 22 years, after being forced to move from its original location on Olympic Boulevard when firefighters discovered toxic chemicals on the plot next door.

Inner-City began in Downtown by purchasing a small piece of land on 7th and Kohler streets, and through continued grants and donations, has expanded in size and programming.

Most recently, Dreamworks pledged $250,000 over the course of five years to keep the center's animation classes going, where kids learn about Zoetropes, Flipbooks, puppet animation and optical printing. Much of the donated money will go towards the instructor's salary, said Inner-City president and CEO Joseph A. Collins.

All of the organization's classes are taught by people with masters degrees or PHDs in their concentration; from ceramics to theater, arts and music, said Sharyn Church, deputy director of the organization.

There are 27 people on the Inner-City staff and about 10,000 kids who use the facilities throughout the year. Operating costs for the organization are close to $3 million per year, said Collins, so donations from businesses like Dreamworks really keep the nonprofit out of the red.

He said Inner-City is "mean and lean" and stays afloat through strong relationships with foundations, fundraising events and other sources of income -- such as renting out its theater to other local groups.

"Being in the creative economy and in L.A., we find it very important to stay connected to the entertainment industry," said Collins.

More than 80 percent of Inner-City's funding is directly related to programming (classes, supplies, teachers), said the CEO, adding that in this current economic climate its services are especially crucial.

"More now than ever we are so important to the L.A. kids," said Collins.

City schools continue to sever arts programs, an action Bates likens to cutting off a finger; without it, the hand doesn't work as well.

"If you take creativity out of the mix then what can you do with what you know? You can't do much," he said.

Bates said creativity is an essential tool for intelligence at every age, and is needed not only for artistic fields, but for solving some of the world's biggest problems.

"If we don't have highly creative people we can very well become extinct," he said.

When Blogdowntown talked to Bates, he was dismantling a marble maze in the "Creativity Lab" at the center. Surrounded by building materials and wire sculptures, Bates said that in the lab, students use the scientific method to test, evaluate and redesign. If a creation doesn't work right the first time, they don't scream and run away -- but tweak their process and try again, he said.

"It's like Edison when he invented the light bulb," said Bates. "There's many different stories, but I heard he does about 10,000 attempts before they finally got to the incandescent light bulb."

Inner-City Arts has expanded its programming to include teacher training, adult classes, specialized teenage institutes and summer school programs. Since the organization's founding in 1989, it has served more than 150,000 at-risk children throughout the city.


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