Category Archives: Hollywood Arts

Hollywood Arts Expands, Grows….

Hollywood Arts grew fast in the next year. By year two we had connected with over 300 young adults, homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Our teaching pool had grown and more staff was hired. At the same time, we developed new programs to meet the needs of our young students.

We created career-based mentorships where students worked with professionals on projects in which they were interested while getting the one-on-one emotional support mentors can provide. We partnered with the local city college to help some of our students transition to formal higher education. We launched an internship program and to this day stand behind Comcast for being the first major entertainment company to embrace us and our students. Comcast branded this program by taking an intern from Hollywood Arts who months later became a full-time employee with the agency.

We created new classes on topics such as Entrepreneurialism, Business Practices, Marketing and we invited guest lecturers from different pockets of the creative sectors: film, fashion, video games, animation, makeup. The school became something the students were proud of, something they respected and defended. To this day, many of our alum still cite Hollywood Arts on their Facebook pages as their educational experience. We built a family which for many of our students is as important as the vocational skills they learned.

Hollywood Arts remains one of, if not the only, educational facility in the nation to offer classes in the arts, performance and music at no cost to over 18 homeless young people. Pushed into the adult welfare system at 18, these kids are lost in worlds ill-equipped to meet their unique 18-year old developmental needs. Not adults but treated as such, emotionally behind the curve raised by the streets or the foster care system, these young adults run.

Hollywood Arts stopped them. The facility became a model and Ashoka flew from DC to meet me for their international leadership program recognizing innovative non-governmental organizations. We figured out a way to stop these kids from running long enough to get them to score a few successes, see themselves differently and begin the process of changing their own lives. We used the arts to do this, not to make them professional artists, but to give them the chance to master vocational and critical life skills skills cloaked behind art-based activities, activities which motivated them.

Nothing could have made me more proud. The idea I had–the idea met day after day with: “Why are you giving homeless kids a paintbrush?”–worked. Young people moved into jobs, learned skills, and their lives, while maybe not changed entirely, were dented by something positive. A seed was planted. Four years later, I resigned. Hollywood Arts was about bringing a new solution to a challenging problem. And I did it. I was ready to see what was next.

I left Hollywood Arts but not the students. I, too, was given an incredible family though this experience–both literally and metaphorically. I met my foster son through Hollywood Arts and am now a “grandmother” to his 3-year old boy. And forever Hollywood Arts will remain in my heart. The school is an inspiration made that way by its inspiring students.

Hollywood Arts-Our Own Facility, Year One

Hollywood Arts was six months old and programming at partner nonprofits serving homeless youth when I got the idea to do a seated dinner…one of those large fancy galas that most charities don’t take on until years into operations. I somehow managed to convince my board chairman Gregory Butler to go along with me and Gregory was instrumental in helping us secure our honoree, Tommy Tallarico, whose energy and passion for Hollywood Arts would help us open our doors before the end of the first year.

Tommy Tallarico was a video game rock star. A sound composer who launched the idea of putting scored music to video games. My contribution to the dinner was to say yes. Yes, Hollywood Arts will honor the video game industry–a decision that came with some controversy as games were being held accountable for every woe afflicting the youth of today. And here I was running a program for those same youth.

Hog wash. We went forward. Tommy brought not only his colleagues to the event but secured a 36 piece orchestra and three opera singers to perform at the event. Convinced that charity is serious business but raising money need not always be, I invited costumed actors to work the crowd and created center pieces out of gaming consoles. It worked. The event netted enough money for me to rent a building.

By fall of that year, I had a space in Hollywood and enough spare change and good friends to build a computer lab (thanks IBM and The Water Buffalo Club) and a music room (thanks Yamaha, Steve Vai and many others). I had no money to hire teachers so the center opened only two days a week…Saturday and Sunday, when I could get volunteers to come in and teach classes. Those classes were packed. Melissa Magsaysay, fashion editor for the LA Times taught weekly; Charissa Saverio, DJ Rap, taught a turntable class; actors Matthew Humphreys and Bruce Ducat taught acting…young people from the streets poured in.

Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch, founding board member, grew convinced we needed to be open 5 days a week. Her gift gave us that opportunity. I never looked back. Before I knew it, Hollywood Arts was vibrant, dynamic and alive. Young people were learning (smoking pot and screwing around as well) but they were learning.

I learned as I went. I listened to the students and together, driven by my own intuition and mixed with their feedback, the space grew until we were offering 5 classes a day, 5 days a week, at no cost to homeless youth. Classes included fashion, music, improvisation, and even interior architecture. The point was not to make homeless youth more homeless by asking them to choose careers as artists but rather to use creative activities in which they were truly interested to engage them, motivate them and help them take charge of their own personal growth.

Next: Hollywood Arts grows….

Hollywood Arts- a traveling show

Excited to reopen my studio and in respect for my desire to continue to reach at-risk youth, I went to breakfast with friend and Los Angeles Council President Eric Garcetti to share my news. I wanted to open the studio in a neighborhood where I had relationships with nonprofit organizations. Eric introduced me to real estate developer Samir Srivastava who offered me studio space in the same building where Eric had his field office at Hollywood and Western. Eric also agreed to introduce me to the top chiefs at a few of the local youth-based service agencies where I would be building partnerships.

I went out on these meetings eager to meet my new students. Only I didn’t find Latinas. Instead, I found homeless young adults. Many of them looked a lot like me when I was their age.

I shared with them my idea to open a ceramics studio up the street. And to invite them to come build things with me. The reaction? Dead pan. Nothing. Not interested. Ceramics, what?

So I asked them in what they were interested. Music. Film. Fashion. I put the two kilns I had just bought in storage. And I opened Hollywoood Arts. The first educational facility in the nation to use arts, performance and music-based education to help the over 18 homeless and newly emancipated foster youth population feel good about themselves and get excited about learning….

In the beginning I programmed at group homes and shelters. I ran three classes and brought in incredible talent to work with the kids– film maker Andrew Lazar who taught a class on pitching ideas, actor Persia White, screen writer David Elliot, animator Andy Clark, actor Garrett Hedlund, writer Martin Olson, producer Doug Davison. By the 6th month I was preparing to do our first seated dinner honoring video game sound composer and hero, Tommy Tallarico. I was ready to have my own building.

The photos below are of the first event I held a few weeks after the idea. I raised enough money at the event (and thank you to Paramount Pictures for helping!) to start programs at partner agencies, before I leased our own space on Wilcox in Hollywood. The kid in the white, featured twice, is my foster son John.