Inside Out Community Arts (IOCA), a non- profit organization, was established in Venice, California, in 1996 in response to the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest. The founders recognized a dire need of activities for adolescent youth that would prevent the continual proliferation of violent culture and behaviors that teenagers are vulnerable to, such as drugs and gang initiations. IOCA provides modern and tailor-made programs that engage students through arts and media education, and elicits independent assessments of social situations that youth in under-served communities are faced with.
Meeting with Alison Forbes, an Executive Director of the non- profit, was both inspiring and illuminating. She has held her position within the organization for a year and a half and describes it as a uniquely satisfying position, particularly because it encapsulates her personal passions and expertise. “These programs provide a consistent and positive environment for many underserved youth”, Forbes explains, “what’s amazing is that when these kids are writing their own plays about social issues, that they perform on stage, they understand that they can create any type of ending, but they always want to write a positive one”. Forbes explains how the young people yearn to express themselves and make positive choices, yet to do so they require some encouragement and a supportive environment that is free from judgment.
IOCA programs utilize the concepts behind Art Therapy, which is a therapeutic discipline that entered mainstream America in the mid-twentieth century; whereby a patient uses the creation of art as a medium for expressing themselves, developing self-awareness and as a meditative coping mechanism for stress. Forbes describes, “the practice of art is merely a tool for engaging the youth on decision-making”; when these teenagers sit down on a weekly basis and collaborate with one another on how to produce a play, compose a song or create a piece of art work, they are not only exercising the creative right-side of their brain, but they are also learning the imperative nature of positive, independent decision-making. This offers an opportunity that is rare for some of these children who live in low socioeconomic areas where Arts Programs are the first to be cut from the school curriculum.
Watching a group of teens learning how to write lyrics, it was clear that the skills being taught did not require tedious concentration. Rather, the lesson creatively connected with the teenagers and evoked words, phrases and metaphors that seemed to be floating on the surface of their subconscious. This was then followed by a collective group analysis of the lyrics. Forbes highlights the changing trends in the social issues that the youth have chosen to express, over the past two decades, through their art and theatrical performances; Issues on Gender equality were more prevalent in the 1990’s, whereas issues surrounding sexual preference now commonly arise.
The IOCA has directly served close to 5000 children, bridged cultural divides between different gang-neighborhoods and inspired creative learning, expanded future aspirations and literally saved the lives of countless adolescents. The IOCA ‘Alumni Mentor Program’ provides leadership training to senior students who wish to return as mentors to the middle-school kids. Forbes believes that it is a true testament to the organization’s success as the program evolved of the students’ own volition, in wanting to continue being involved with the organization.
Alison has recently moved into a modern, sustainably designed abode that is made out of shipping containers (refer to our ‘Dirty Issue’ archives for an overview of these avante garde architectural designs). She is educated in Arts Education and Life Coaching, writes a blog called ‘Inspired Everyday Living’ and has co-authored several interior design books with her sister Laura Carlin. Her books are based on Feng Shui and explain the principles of positively manifesting your life goals.