We’ve been inside a lot of artist studios this week, but I have to say some of the most exciting and innovative work I’ve seen was not created in a studio at all. It did not originate in Chinatown or Culver City. It doesn’t hang in museums. And in fact, most of it was not made by anyone who was born before the year 2000. It can be seen in a little school in downtown LA called Inner-City Arts.
Inner-City Arts was started to help offset the fact that arts education is evaporating from our public schools. So for one class a day, students from over 50 schools are bused to the school for a transformative hour of ceramics, painting, dance, drama, even animation. (How’s that for proof that they were born after the year 2000?)
When we arriveed we got to watch the teachers—all young, practicing artists—as they jammed on guitars and laid out sticks of charcoal, preparing for their next classes. As the kids marched in, single file from the buses, you could visibly see the giddiness spread across their faces as they stepped through the gate. They couldn’t have been more excited to be there. It seemed like it was the highlight of their day.
At the center of Inner-City Arts is architect Michael Maltzan, who designed the campus in three stages, starting with an empty auto shop in Skid Row. His thoughtful reuse of the existing buildings, combined with a true artists’ sensibility (Maltzan started out studying art) makes Inner-City Arts feel like middle ground for the two communities it hopes to unite: The raw, affordable materials seem like they’ve been a part of the neighborhood forever, but the way they’re configured act more like a beacon, drawing people from outside of the neighborhood in.
In fact, the indoor-outdoor layout is more like a park than an institution, with gracefully landscaped walks by Nancy Power and bright orange graphics by Michael Hodgson. As you weave through the white-white walls, the presence of glittery mosaics and swaying palm trees only add to the sense that you’re in some kind of exotic walled city. But I think that’s the point: It is truly an oasis of creativity in a very troubled place.
I’m very excited to say that we have a de LaB event with Maltzan scheduled at Inner-City Arts for December 4, but unfortunately for anyone who’s reading this, it sold out in about 15 minutes. However, I managed to catch up with Maltzan’s team during our visit and, yes, we are going to plan another outing to the school very soon.
Maltzan was skeptical—or extremely modest—about the role of architecture in producing social change. At the very least, it can be a great partner, he said. But in this case I think the building acts as a kind of calling card that helps to get the attention of an outside audience. And in that sense, it has worked: They’ve actually piqued the interest of the creative community so much that they can’t accommodate all the curious people who want to see it (and hopefully support it). But believe me, if you get to see half of what I saw there, it’s worth the wait.