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Showcase of Young Artists' Talents

Program: Works by North Hollywood teenagers to be featured at event tonight.

November 17, 2001|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frustrated with unrewarding work in the film industry, artist Carlos Vera sat down on his sofa, popped open a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and switched on the television in his Burbank apartment.

It was the spring of 2000 and the Public Broadcasting System was airing a show about a nonprofit organization in Boston that encouraged low-income teenagers to take up the arts.

"I saw that show and knew that was what I wanted to do with my life," said Vera, 28, who had studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and was a successful Hollywood costume and set designer.

Today, Vera will realize his goal when his version of the Boston program, California Artists for Humanity, hosts its grand opening show in the NoHo Arts District of North Hollywood.

The show, beginning at 5 p.m. at 5303 Lankershim Blvd., will feature paintings, poetry readings and dance performances by more than two dozen San Fernando Valley youths.

For a month, teenagers have been coming to the second-floor studio where they have free access to art supplies and tutoring from Vera, his assistant Meagan Mattingly and a few volunteers.

The scene Friday evening at the California Artists for Humanity's 5,000-square-foot studio was frantic as teenagers painted walls, sketched drawings on canvas and rehearsed dance steps.

One budding artist, Twix Patterson, 18, was putting the final touches on a painting of a red rose with a long, snaking stem, on which he had written a poem.

"It's not just about painting; it's about merging art, dance and poetry," Patterson said. "I love it here."

Many of the students are from nearby North Hollywood High School, and all of them are glad their mentor watched television 18 months ago.

Shortly after seeing the PBS program, Vera flew to Boston.

"Carlos called me up and said he loved what we were doing," said Susan Rodgerson, who founded Artists for Humanity in 1990. "This guy really had the professional art skills, the drive and the understanding of what we were trying to do with the kids."

It took nearly a year to find a foundation to help Vera and Rodgerson establish the second Artists for Humanity. The program is funded by a grant from the Garfield Foundation based in Massachusetts, which focuses on community revitalization.

"It's a remarkable and unique program," said the family foundation's executive director, Jennie McCann. "Of course, there are programs that focus on youth and the arts, but I don't know of another like Artists for Humanity."

What distinguishes the program, McCann said, is its concentration not only on teaching the creative process but on the marketing aspect of art.

"They teach and nurture kids how to make art and how to make money from their art," McCann said.

Admiring his rose painting and poetry, Patterson agreed.

"It's not just about creating, but it's about turning your art into a business," Patterson said. "But even more so, this is a place where kids can do something creative and not go do something stupid, like beat people up."

In another corner of the wildly colorful studio, Vera went from student to student, sometimes complimenting, sometimes suggesting, always encouraging.

Several of the students said they might not become professional artists, but, for now at least, they find their time in the studio to be the highlight of their day.

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