Children's Hearts, Eyes Are Opened to the Arts

Times Staff Writer

Two dozen bubbly boys and girls sat in a circle on the hardwood floor as music teacher Ron George pounded out an upbeat song on an electronic keyboard.

"I like salad," George started out.

"I like salad," the fourth-graders loudly sang back.

The sing-along at Inner-City Arts in downtown Los Angeles was meant to draw the shy children from nearby 10th Street Elementary School out of their shells.

"The sounds," explained 9-year-old Susan Ontiveros, her dark eyes dancing behind her glasses, "they make me feel peaceful."

On a recent Friday morning, the children rode a bus from their campus through a downtown neighborhood near skid row, arriving a short time later at the brightly painted building in a warehouse district where Inner-City Arts is housed.

Past the tall metal gate, they were met by energetic arts teachers and walls and halls decorated with paintings and wood sculptures made by past students.

In a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, about 8,000 students from 15 downtown area schools visit Inner-City Arts each year. They receive free instruction in music, dance, drama, ceramics and more.

Inner-City Arts received a $15,000 grant this year from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, which raises money for nonprofits in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Inner-City Arts, which operates on a $1.2-million budget, has ambitious plans in the works.

A $10-million construction project will add new facilities such as an art gallery, a theater and an animation studio where children will learn how to make cartoons.

Like Susan, the students are predominantly Latinos who come from humble means, said Bob Bates, who co-founded Inner-City Arts in 1989.

Bates, 63, said he got the idea for an arts school for underprivileged children while meditating at his downtown loft.

"I literally heard a voice, 'Get an art space for kids,' " he said.

He decided to start it downtown to bring arts to children who otherwise might not experience them.

"The kids that live in the inner city have few of the monetary ... possessions that other people have, but yet they have the same potential," Bates said. "What better place to help children grow than right in the heart of the city?"



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