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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Skid Row Arts Program Helps Children Thrive

Children of all ages and backgrounds learn self-expression through the arts at Inner City Arts -  with a little help from The Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two hours of choosing an outfit, applying make-up and picking the perfect shoes, and Silvana Perolini is getting the chance to do something she’s never done before.

At 29, she’s going to a different kind of prom. 

“I am so excited to be here. I am from Uruguay and we do not have prom there, we only see it on TV,” said Perolini. 

Tucked away between several worn down buildings on Skid Row, at first glance, one could easily miss Inner-City Arts. On Saturday, Feb. 9, the normally private 8,000 square foot center was taken over by Unique LA and decorated like a high school gym to host a 'Fake Prom.'

“I wanted to help them [Inner-City Arts] raise money and instead of doing a banquet dinner or something kind of ‘stodgy’ I throw really good parties, so the idea of a Fake Prom came to mind," said Unique LA founder Sonja Rasula.

"It’s a way to have a really good time, to drink and dance and dress up while celebrating arts and culture."

Prom tickets for the event cost $35 or $50 based upon the length of time prom-goers wanted to sponsor a child at the center. 

Aside from providing an inner-city child with a sponsor, each ticket also offered the chance to attend a prom they never had, to dress up, to take the classic prom photo, enjoy cocktails and desserts, and don a corsage or boutonniere. 

Amongst the string lights, the laughter, wine, and awkward dances moves, a sense of solidarity for the cause of helping at-risk and children in general is strong. Inner-City Arts offers children a safe space where regardless of their economic background, they have the chance to express themselves through acting class, animation, drawing, dancing, and much more. 

A Survivor of Clergy Sex Abuse Speak Out

A safe space is exactly what Esther Miller needed as a teenager.

“It was too much, until I attempted suicide,” said Miller. 

Miller, 54, a member of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a USC graduate, stands outside of the Cathedral of the Lady of our Angels with a handful of photos in her hands. The photo in her right hand is of a youthful, smiling cheerleader. The photo in her left hand is of a smiling priest, better known as Michael Nocita and the man who sexually abused Miller. 

“I was 17 when I tried to commit suicide, and then I told my parents what happened. They went to the church to try and figure out what had happened and the church said this was an isolated case and that I was the one who was causing it,” said Miller.

Thirty-seven years after Miller told her story, a California judge forced the archdiocese to release 12,000 pages of church documents revealing its handling of abuse allegations, 250 of those pages describe Miller’s case. 

“I’ve seen the documents and they are incomplete. Things have been redacted, I was told they wouldn't be and they have been! This is the time to ask the people in the pews, what are you going to do to help the people in your church? Because I am not a practicing Catholic, I will never go back to this cult.” 

Miller has been married four times and has held 27 jobs, she also now has kids of her own. When it comes to children, Miller believes in the protection of children, at-risk or not. 

“I want to tell people, build museums! Create beautiful art museums! Create music awareness, create modalities, and give kids a space to relate to something, something beautiful,” said Miller.

The President and CEO of Inner-City Arts, Joseph Collins, believes the center is the space Miller describes.

“Inner-City Arts is a 24 year-old organization that provides arts programming to 10,000 children a year. We are a very important resource to the community. We provide access to the arts to a community of folks that do not normally do not have access to state of the art classes and equipment,” said Collins.

L.A. Dodgers Provide Key Backing

This past January, the Los Angeles Dodgers visited Inner-City Arts as a part of their Community Caravan tour, to dance, sketch, act, and create animation with some of the center’s students. One player believes that it is especially important to help and protect children amid the reports of child abuse in the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.

“Anytime you can help the kids, it’s a big deal. We are at a point right now where we could really change one of these kid’s lives, maybe they are able to get away from something like that for a split second. Maybe we can get them thinking positively where in the future they can have a better life. If we are here putting a smile on a kid’s face then we’ve won,” said Javy Guerra, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The center hosts celebrities throughout the year to give children the opportunity to meet their role models. 

“Having the Dodgers come onto our campus gives the kids hopes and dreams of what is possible in their lives. Many of the players look like the children, and the kids can relate to who the players are and what their future could be,” said Collins. 

Another pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kenley Jansen, fully supports Collins.

“Spending time with the kids at this center is really important, I remember when I was a kid I wanted to see a superstar, I wanted them to come to town and spend time with us, and that’s what this is for them, it is a dream come true,” said Jansen. 

Statistics & the Importance of Art

Child Abuse and maltreatment remain an ongoing issue in the United States. A report by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that in 2010 in California alone, there were 76,758 unique cases of child abuse, which compares to the national average of 688,251. 

A 2011 report on Child Maltreatment from Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quotes a section from the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) which focuses on “improving the CPS [Child Protective Services] program’.  CAPTA believes in the “creating and improving the use of multi-disciplinary teams to enhance investigations, improve risk and safety assessment protocols…” 

A professor in the school of Social Work at the University of Southern California has seen first hand the impact the arts and art therapy can have on children who have been abused. As stated in CAPTA’s mission, Michael Sela-Amit believes that prevention is key and that art centers give children a safe place. 

“It allows them to self-express, which a lot of kids don’t know that they are allowed to and it can also come out what they object to,” said Sela-Amit. 

Sela-Amit and organization know that although child abuse may never disappear completely, places like Inner-City Arts carve out a safe space for children. 

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