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Community News: South

SOUTH-CENTRAL : First Notes Sounded for Arts Center

October 02, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

With pomp and pageantry, the African American Unity Center recently celebrated the groundbreaking for an arts center on a site where an earthquake-damaged church now stands.

Setting the groove with Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," the Washington High School band marked the Sept. 22 ceremony by marching across 53rd Street to the south corner of Vermont Avenue, where the Unity Center's performing arts center is scheduled to open its doors in 1996.

"We are going to see a lot of activity in this corner," said Bette Braxton, the program coordinator for the Center for the Performing Arts.

Motown Music Co. founder Berry Gordy, Mann Theatres and federal agencies chipped in $3 million to the Unity Center to help convert a former Presbyterian church into a theater, offering a stage for live performances and a retractable screen for exhibiting first-run films.

The Unity Center's two social service organizations, Unity House and the Community Unity Center for Human Growth and Development, already occupy two buildings in the same complex as the church.

"This represents one additional arm of the programs we want to offer here," said Curtis Owens, executive director of the Unity Center. Owens said his organization also intends to offer classes on aspects of film, stage and music production.

The project was launched with a $500,000 grant from Gordy and a matching grant from the city of Los Angeles. The group also received money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed and Jo-Bete Music. Owens said it will cost about $5 million for the building to be fully functional, including monies set aside for new arts programs. The center will have a seating capacity of about 450.

"At least 85% of the money that Gordy and (Councilwoman) Rita Walters gave is for facility renovation and (earthquake) retrofitting to meet city building and safety codes," Owens said. The church building, which was built near the turn of the century, was recently declared unsafe by the city, Owens said.

While construction is in progress, Braxton will work on arts projects that will come to fruition by next month.

"We will be offering dance, drama and vocal programs very soon," said Braxton, who has worked as a project coordinator and assistant for such artists as David Carradine and Roberta Flack. "People from the community are already asking me when the programs are going to start."

Braxton said the dance program should start by the end of November. It will be an extension of an existing Unity Center program for adults and children.

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