Inner-City Arts, located in an impoverished Los Angeles neighborhood, offers a creative refuge for at-risk children who may not otherwise have access to the arts. The product of a partnership between founders Bob Bates and Irwin Jaeger, public school administrators, and the local community, the organization provides free art classes taught by professional artists to about ten thousand children annually. It was created partly to offset the effects of Proposition 13, an amendment to the state constitution in 1978 that resulted in severe tax caps and virtually eliminated arts education from many California public schools.
After occupying small, temporary spaces for several years, Inner-City Arts teamed up with Michael Maltzan to retrofit and repurpose an abandoned garage in Los Angeles’s Skid Row neighborhood. The finished project, a one-acre campus built in three phases as the institution grew, employs a restrained and unified architectural language of simple, abstracted geometries with accents of bright orange, in which student creativity takes center stage. Highly adaptable interior and exterior spaces are intimate yet airy arenas for kids; the main courtyard is a comfortable environment in which to gather, play, and explore, a haven in a neighborhood whose outdoor space is often unsafe. Cutouts and setbacks along the perimeter connect the school with its surroundings and render its silhouette less imposing, and strategically placed low walls further open the building to its neighborhood. The sculptural ceramics towers at the center of the campus, are beacons for the school. In painting the exterior stucco walls bright white—a color that immediately betrays neglect—the organization communicated its commitment to maintenance and upkeep. Maltzan, through his decade-and-a-half involvement with the project, demonstrates the potential of architecture to inspire creativity and realize promise in the context of an almost utopian micro-city.