Claire Knowlton started taking art classes at McGroarty Art Center in Tujunga when she was just 3 years old.
Knowlton was appointed executive director of the center in 2006, and since that time, the La Crescenta resident has dedicated herself to improving the nonprofit's mission of providing access to the arts for all families in surrounding communities.
McGroarty,a Los Angeles historical landmark and center that has offered art instruction to low-income youths and families since 1953, was on the verge of closing due to financial difficulties when Knowlton joined the staff in 2006.
Knowlton felt the skills that she had accumulated while earning a bachelor's degree in economics and religious studies in 2005 from the University of the Pacific were the perfect match for the center's growth.
"I thought I could be really effective and ensure the longevity of the organization," she said.
Knowlton took over the tasks of long-range planning for the art center, oversight of old and new programs, and fundraising.
Knowlton has helped McGroarty Arts Center flourish, said Denise Statland, McGroarty program director.
"Under Claire's leadership, McGroarty has expanded to offer nearly 80 classes per week, and most of these classes now run at or near capacity," Statland said. "Claire's hard work has brought McGroarty more foundation grants than ever before, stabilizing our budget and allowing us to bring the arts to a broader audience."
Under Knowlton's guidance, McGroarty now offers arts education programs for children, adults and seniors, music classes, dance, theater, drawing and creative writing, all at a very low cost for students. She also played a key role in launching the organization's non-mobile senior program last fall. The new program reaches people that don't have the access or ability to come to the center for classes.
Now McGroarty Arts Center is an important part of arts education for surrounding communities because many schools are cutting back art programs as they are strapped for cash, Knowlton said. She feels every child has a right to learn about the arts and participate in artistic activities, regardless of the impact of the economy.
"Many do not have resources outside schools to receive education," she said. "Arts education has become limited to the elite in society, but it's such an important tool for how we communicate and develop and coexist in a world of great differences."
Although Knowlton has helped keep the art center alive by working 60 to 80 hours a week, she said she remains determined to reach every person in the foothills community and get a stable source of funding to make that happen.
"I really hope for the center to have a cash reserve and endowment that ensures the center is able to operate very effectively through good times and bad times and be able to adjust to the changing needs of the community without having to worry how it's going to foot the bill," Knowlton said.