On Saturday, for the fourth time in fewer than twelve months, I went to Barnsdall art park to register my daughter for art classes. The Junior Arts Center has been offering low-cost, high-quality classes since 1967, and the registration process is routine: registration begins at 8:30 a.m., with place-in-line numbers handed out beginning at 7. If you're one of the first 60 or so, there's a chalk box written onto the ground where you can hold your number down. You also get a sign-up sheet with your number on it, if you're the kind of person who wanders out of place (as do I). One time, I arrived at ten to seven to find myself an anxious #170 or so, watching as classes filled up. This time it appeared to me that there were fewer than 100 parents.
Saturday's trip would have been a routine for me, as well as Barnsdall, except that the registration was held two weeks late, for a session that was supposed to have been canceled. (If you're just tuning in, the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs announced about a month ago that it was shutting the program down. The City Council stepped up to help the Department of Cultural Affairs "find" the money -- and the will -- to reinstate spring classes. Even though it may have been an action by the City Council that led to the cancelation in the first place.) As Paul Gamberg, the founder of a nonprofit that created an umbrella group that supports the Junior Arts Center and the adult arts program, let me and other parents in line know, this could be the last of the Junior Arts Center sign-ups if people don't speak up in support of the program. And others like it, Chicken Corner will hasten to add.
It has seemed baffling to me that the Department of Cultural Affairs could fail to support such a popular program that was already in place and even had a legacy. Once upon a time, according to Gamberg, Barnsdall's arts programs -- and the whole system of neighborhood arts centers -- were the darling of Mayor Tom Bradley. Still, he said, every year in recent decades the Center has had to fight for city funds, and this was not the first time the program had come close to being shut down. In Gamberg's opinion, the Department of Cultural Affairs defines its mission in terms of PR and tourism, that it wants to attract visitors to Los Angeles with big programs that will raise the city's profile outside of Los Angeles -- and supporting small, local arts centers that provide low-cost classes is not a priority for the agency. As we have seen.
Well, here at Chicken Corner HQ we have our bias, based on the belief that a better city has better programs and services for its residents, even in a dire economy. A better place to live is a good place to visit.