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Watts Towers In Crisis

by Jose Citizen Saturday, May. 15, 2004 at 1:04 PM

Open letter regarding the closing of the Watts Towers because of budgetary constraints. Employees lose jobs.

May 14, 2004

Mayor James Hahn
200 North Spring Street, Room 303
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Honorable Mayor Hahn,

On Monday, May 10th Leslie Thomas, Assistant General Manager of the Cultural Affairs Department of Los Angeles sent an e-mail to all CAD directors and full time employees giving and an update on the current budget (FY04). The e-mail included a quote regarding Part Time As-needed staff:
We have reached a critical point with our 1070 As-Needed budget where, in order to avoid the type of situation we encountered last year, we are sending out the official word with this email that all 1070 staff assignments should be concluded at the end of Pay Period 24 (May 29, 2004). The As Needed Payroll averages between $55,000 - $57,000 per pay period. Even with transfers (internal and those done through the CAO), because of required salary increases, overtime payments, as needed staff working 40+ hours per week, etc. we will not be able to meet the payrolls for Pay Periods 25 and 26. Begin now to reduce the number of hours being worked by as needed staff. Please know that we have scoured every available account to be able to continue through Pay Period 24.

Also, until the FY05 Budget is approved, please do not make any commitments to as needed staff for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2004.

Being an As-Needed part time employee with the Cultural Affairs Department this worried me. With such short notice I am left confused as to what to do. I am here to ask you to save the jobs of the 1070 employees in the Cultural Affairs Department. 1070 employees are really the backbone of the Cultural Affairs Department. At many sites we are the ones that directly interact with the public, administer workshops and classes, and organize festivals. I have been a 1070 employee for 7 years with the Cultural Affairs Department, and I have worked mainly at the Watts Towers Arts Center. As I have seen before with other budget cuts, the main areas that will be affected are the art centers in the inner city. The Watts Towers Arts Center has only 3 full time employees on staff, which include the director the education coordinator and the office manager. This number of staff is not sufficient to maintain the gamut of activities at the Watts Towers Arts Center such as exhibitions and music programs, art classes and workshops, and tours of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia.

I will be the first one to acknowledge that I am trying to save my job, but I am not acting simply on the desire to remain employed, but rather acting on a desire to keep something greater in my community. What I would like to present as an example to you of why 1070 employees and the programs offered by Watts Tower Arts Center should remain is myself; more exactly, the story of my life and how I came to be involved with the Cultural Affairs Department.
I was raised in the community of Watts one of the more recognizable areas of Los Angeles, home to the famous Watts Tower of Simon Rodia. As I was growing up in Watts, it was known as one of the most violent and poverty stricken communities in Los Angeles, my community was constantly being reported on in the news, the reports were mostly negative either dealing with gang violence from some of the most notorious street gangs in America, the Bloods and Crips, or the poverty from some of the housing projecting including the Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens, and Imperial Courts. I felt I had very few opportunities for success. My surroundings were never very encouraging it seemed the only way to survive in my neighborhood was through a life of crime. At the age of nine I was held up at gunpoint for money I didn’t have, by the age of 12 the constant barrage of gunshots across the night sky ceased to keep me awake. In my life there were only two things keeping me from a downward spiral leading to crime or drugs. One was my family, and the other was Cultural Affairs Department, through the Watts Towers Arts Center. It was my family that would always inspire and support me to become the best that I could in the hope that I might have a better life someday; it was the Watts Towers Arts Center that provided that way out. In the front lines of gang territory stood the haven that I and so many other children badly needed.
As a child I took advantage of the programs that where offered through Cultural affairs at the Watts Towers Arts Center, I would go to there every day to learn various arts and crafts, it became my hangout. And what a hangout it was, there I was able to see artwork from some of the greatest artists in the city, such as John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy, Charles Dickson, Toni Love, and Elliot Pinkney I would hear readings from writers and poets, like Eric Priestly, Kamau Da’ood and The Watts Prophets. I could hear music from Nedra Wheeler, Horace Tapscot Ndugu Chancellor, Poncho Sanchez. These artists, writers and musicians became my role models and mentors. It was the cultural focal point of my youth and I discovered the rich artistic history that Watts has. I continued my association with the Arts Center through my high school years learning as much as I could about anything that I could. I soon had a more creative out look on life. I began to take classes in video production and continued those classes throughout my high school career into my first year of college. After my first year of college I began to work in the front office of the arts center. It was a wonderful experience to learn the inner workings of a community arts center and gallery. My main duty was to assist Art instructors in their classes. From them not only did I learn how use my creativity and my energy, but I also learned how to teach and work with children of various ages. At the end of that summer I was substituting for various art instructors, by the beginning of the following year I was teaching my own class. It was now time for me to utilize the leadership skills and the creative abilities I had been learning for so long. I soon was able to put them both to use in a classroom setting. I began to use the leadership abilities I had learned to manage a classroom setting; I used my creative abilities to teach my students how to express themselves through art I as had been taught before them. I had come full circle, beginning as a student and ending as a teacher. My tireless energy would not allow me to stop I wanted to do more for my community. I wanted to take my leadership experience to a higher level, I soon became a member of the Friends of the Watts Towers Arts Center, an organization that is dedicated to increasing programming, assisting with funding, dealing with fiscal obligations and public relations. I soon became a member on the board of this organization actually the youngest member on the organization. I was able to lend my talents to professionals that had the same interests that I had mainly the Arts Center. Through this organization I have participated in interviews and fund raising events for the Arts Center. My affiliation with this organization still continues, as does my position as an art instructor, which is now in jeopardy because of the current budget situation and the proposed budget cuts for Fiscal Year 2005.
This city has to have the Watts Towers and places like the Watts Towers Arts Center, places that will recognize the incredible contributions that it’s children have made and continue to make to the arts otherwise it will face losing them. It will face losing that rich diversity that we love to proclaim we have. Not only that but we will face kids running around in the streets in the summer months with nothing to do and no place to go. Arts Programs like ones provided by the Watts Towers Arts Center help to keep kids off the streets, out of gangs, out of trouble.
It was a few months ago you attended a press conference at the Watts Towers Arts Center for the Sony Pictures Media Arts Program a program that is possible through a partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment, The California Institute of the Arts, and the Cultural Affairs Department. You met the children that this program helps; you have seen the product of the Cultural Affairs Department programs, that program is now in danger of being cut. I ask you to remember that day, the children you met, and the programs that have touched their lives especially now that the fate of this and other arts centers hang in peril.
As the situation stands most of the staff at the Watts Towers and the Watts Towers Arts Center are As-Needed Part Time staff. Most of the functions of art instruction, and tours are done by part time staff, to eliminate the part time staff is to eliminate a tour program that has brought visitors from as far away as Europe and Asia. We are being told that our jobs will be eliminated through a memo. A meeting has been held in which NO PART TIME AS-NEEDED STAFF were invited to attend regarding the current budget situation. Part time staff run the programs of the Cultural Affairs Department yet we are treated like disposable workers left out in the cold with no options but, to serve at the pleasure of a department that is supposed to be about artists and the arts, but has become more about the same old city bureaucracy.
Eliminating part time staff would also eliminate all of the classes and workshops that the Watts Towers Arts Center and other art centers across the city provide. It’s a shame that the areas that would be most impacted by this would be the areas where families cannot afford to send their kids to private art instruction; areas with high crime where children may lose a haven from all of the violence happening on the streets.
On April 25th, LA Inc. along with the Cultural Affairs Department sponsored a POW WOW of tourism professionals that included international travel writers and travel agents. The POW WOW showcased many of the amazing cultural sites that Los Angeles has to offer. One of their stops was the Watts Towers and Watts Towers Arts Center. These writers and travel agents were able to see what our arts center can be and what a wonderful historic landmark this city is lucky to have in the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia, a landmark that has been featured on television and in film, a landmark that has had poems and children’s books written about it. How can Los Angeles claim to be a hub of world culture when we can’t operate a tour program for one of the more recognizable landmarks that has been in this city for over 50 years? What kind of greeting will we give to the international community when we have one of the marquee sites of cultural tourism closed because of insufficient funding? How will Los Angeles and Hollywood cultivate talent from this city where there are no programs out there to help develop the arts in the inner city? Who will support the muralist from Echo Park, who will support the writer from South LA, who will play the music of Los Angeles, who will look to honor the Simon Rodias of this city?
I have truly enjoyed the time I have spent at the Watts Towers Arts Center, I don’t think that there is a better place to work in all of the City of Los Angeles, I’m proud to work here because I am part of this community, because I am able to see people from all over the world come to my community a marvel at what it has to offer in the Watts Towers. It saddens me to think that the programs at the Watts Towers Arts Center might have to be cancelled not only because I might be out of a job but also, because the children in this community might not have the same opportunities I had. In those children I see myself and I wonder what my life would be like without the programs of the Watts Towers Arts Center.
To eliminate the programs and art centers, whose only purpose is the arts in this city, is to kill the soul of Los Angeles.
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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 11 posted about this article.
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Ms. Judith Schonebaum Saturday, May. 15, 2004 at 8:09 PM
get off the gummint tit Ghost of Simon Rodia Saturday, May. 15, 2004 at 9:23 PM
Close some park in Brentwood insteadClose some park in Brentwood instead Stop racism! Sunday, May. 16, 2004 at 5:42 AM
aragundi aragundi Thursday, May. 20, 2004 at 7:48 PM
Hi! Ghost of Simon Rodia Monday, Jun. 14, 2004 at 11:41 AM
Ms. Joanne Forman Wednesday, Mar. 09, 2005 at 2:20 PM
A love story ! Michel GIRAUD Monday, Sep. 26, 2005 at 6:30 AM
grimest of news. espanoial Saturday, Jan. 07, 2006 at 10:19 AM
Thank you Liza Saturday, Jan. 07, 2006 at 5:02 PM
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