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With more funding, CalArts hopes to take community partnerships to new level

A group of teens sit on the floor hunched over sketchbooks as one of their classmates holds a pose in the center of the circle for 30 seconds. One student chooses a challenging pose, a plank – arms shaking towards the end – while another picks an easy stance, standing tall, arms to the side. 

It's part of an exercise in an animation class held weekly at Pacoima City Hall. For this activity, students sketch various poses and pick out a few to connect in an animated sequence. 

"I just enjoy the feeling of animation," said Asher Borison, 13, "and the satisfying feeling once you finish an actual action in it."

He's one of about a dozen students in this free class, and like most students here, his school doesn't offer classes like this one. Pacoima is an area advocates call an "arts desert," where there aren’t many museums and there's little access to arts in schools. 

To fill those gaps, the California Institute of the Arts has brought free arts instruction like this to youth throughout Los Angeles for 26 years through its Community Arts Partnership (CAP). With a new $1 million grant from AmeriCorps, CalArts is expanding the program to include workshops for parents and events for the community.

"It's not just a drop-in type of program where we're not actually really engaged with where we're located," said Nadine Rambeau, who manages the program. "We actually do want to know Pacoima and become a fixture here and then for other people to rely on us as well."

Classes are held at 45 sites throughout Los Angeles County and serve 2,700 students, up from 2,600 last year. This grant is the first AmeriCorps has awarded to a college-level arts institution. The CAP Citizen Artist AmeriCorps Scholars and Fellows Program also supports professional development for instructors.  

"The idea is to bring arts education as an art itself," said instructor Bertha Aguilar, one of the fellows in the program. "To be imaginative, creative and open to failure and discovery."

Along with training to improve their craft, instructors learn how to engage communities, recruit students and build their own programs. 

"Eventually they will go back to their own community and take this model and be able to build it," Rambeau said. "That way it's not like CAP is replicating itself, it's kind of taking that next generation and then they're going to create the new innovations in arts education."