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THE GOODS : The Art of Survival : Skid Row Access Gives Homeless Artists a Creative Showplace and a Way to Earn a Living

November 04, 1994|BEA MAXWELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They have no works hanging in the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art, nor do they occupy the skylighted Downtown lofts of their more famous fellow artists. Much of their talent is waiting to be discovered.

These are the members of Skid Row Access Inc., founded by impoverished and homeless artists and craftspeople to provide themselves a means of making a living.

Skid Row Access began in 1991 with a chance meeting between Charles J. McClain, an architectural consultant who worked in the area, and Skid Row residents Flo Hawkins, Edward Bond, Raymond Brown and others.

Now there are 30 members, and at least 10 artists gather daily at the studio/workshop at 750 8th St. to create a variety of items that are sold in area stores.

Much of their material comes from discarded movie sets donated by 20th Century Fox Studios and Warner Bros. Other companies donate lumber. The artists are adept at finding "priceless gems" in discard bins.

The group also offers classes in woodworking and carving, linoleum and woodblock printing, greeting card design, T-shirt decorating, drawing and more to low-income community residents.

"This is not merely a showplace for the works of artists, but something bigger. It's an example of how a community can help themselves," says McClain, 32. "It's an example to other communities of how a community can help people down on their luck regain self-respect, confidence, employment and pride in their accomplishments."

Co-founder Hawkins made good money at one time working on studio design sets. Then came unemployment and a downward spiral.

"I ended up sleeping in MacArthur Park," Hawkins says. "Now I have a second chance." Her home now is a quiet bedroom in a Downtown hotel.

Hawkins' paintings and murals are on view at the Skid Row site. Prices vary. She also works on commission.

Co-founder Brown, woodcarver and draftsman, is one of a team that designs and builds sturdy wooden toy airplanes ($14.95), trains ($29.95), trucks ($21.95) and puzzles ($19.95).

Arlinda Thomas and sister Ruth Stewart both have jobs, but their income is so low that, like the other artists in the group, they live in the Skid Row area.

Skid Row Access has given them an outlet for their creations, which include a photo album ($9.95) and a knitted cat pencil holder ($9.95). Other items they make are holiday magnets, picture frames and barrettes.

LuAnne Poindexter creates multicolored holiday reindeer made from pipe cleaners that sell for $2 each. She has also designed angels made from can lids ($2).

The group offers a number of T-shirt designs, all priced at $15 for adult sizes, $10 for children.

TAZ produces abstract T-shirt designs, and makes a point of using only environment-friendly materials.

Pat Perkins, known as "The queen of found art sculpture," makes distinctive works that sell well. A Picasso T-shirt is also one of her designs.

Sy Williams has sold his works independently and has been with Skid Row access for a year. His current art is on holiday cards (8 for $9.95).

Joe Blass, for two years known to his colleagues as "king of Christmas artworks," also designs cards that come in packets of 8 for $9.95.

Wooden bead necklaces, designed by John Henry, cost $6 each.

The artists keep 67% of the sales with 33% going back to Access to fund the organization. Six artists now live independently on earnings from their art. Sales revenues have risen from $6,000 two years ago to $80,000 projected for this year. Thanks to a grant from the Jacobs Family Foundation, rent has been paid for the next six months.

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Locations where Skid Row artists' work is available:

* Palisades Playthings, 1041 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades; (310) 454-8648.

* Lucky Duck Toys & Gifts, 466A Foothill Blvd., La Canada; (818) 790-1239.

* Toys for All Reasons, 1125 Lindero Canyon Rd., Suite AA-1, Westlake Village; (818) 991-8697.

* Purchase of items and a brochure with a complete listing of merchandise is available at Skid Row Access Inc., 750 8th St., Los Angeles; (213) 624-1773, fax (213) 624-1849.

* Items are also sold at fairs, events and other stores throughout the Southland.

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