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Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Laura Inks

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ARTS ALIVE! founder ready to start a new chapter in a lifetime of creativity.

New years are all about reflecting on the past, the present and the future, and Laura Inks was in a particularly reflective mode when we caught up with her recently. With the ink barely dry on her divorce papers, Inks had also just ended another era as she completed the sale of her “baby,” ARTS ALIVE! Creativity Center, to its new owners, Anthony Parisi and Laura Eliseo.{mosimage}

LD: So, are the new owners planning to keep ARTS ALIVE! relatively intact?

LI: Yes. They are both artists. … They’re building an art center in Kaui, and so their plan is to have some synergy between Kaui and Santa Barbara and kind of live in both places, and even have artists maybe go back and forth as an artist exchange program or something, which would be really cool.

LD: What a great gig that would be.

LI: I know… she’s a dancer and he is a glass artist. They’ve hired Jeanine Richards, her son was J.R. Richards of Santa Barbara High; he passed away a couple years ago. And she had Camp Lorr in Montecito for like 25 years. … She’s going to be running the ARTS ALIVE! camps. Her husband just died, like last week, and so she’s thrilled to have a project to sink her teeth into.

LD: Wow, so you’re not going to be part of the new team?

LI: No. You know it’s so hard to create something and then raise it. It’s like a child, and then to turn it over to somebody. But I feel really good about this couple. They believe in my whole dream. The mission is to have a space where people can come and create and express themselves, and especially for children and adults, too. So they are going to continue to that. And, Jeanine, I’m just thrilled that she’s going to continue that.

LD: Well, congratulations for you. I know you were concerned about the future of ARTS ALIVE!

LI: Well, I didn’t know what was going to happen; I just knew that, financially, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was married for 17 years and that kind of helped cushion my starting a new business while I still had food and shelter, and then with the separation that changed.

LD: Do you know what you’re going to do now?

LI: I don’t know. I’m really excited. I’ve had some really good job interviews and nothing’s panned out quite yet.

LD: Are you trying to stay in the arts field?

LI: Well, I don’t know. I consider myself to be an art educator/social activist. One of my strongest skills is networking and getting the word out and meeting people and connecting people, so it could be with a nonprofit, helping them get the word out about programs and projects. I’m still the president of the Arts Mentorship Program, which is a nonprofit that’s under the umbrella of Community School Inc. … The project I’ve been working on is the Graffiti Project.

LD: What is that?

LI: It’s taking teens and young adults who do graffiti and giving them a controlled environment to create in … then to find venues for exhibiting their work. We’ll have a show in the gallery at ARTS ALIVE! of the kids graffiti artwork (through Jan. 31).

The idea is that, first of all, the people who come here and paint on the boards and canvases that we give them are not painting on the street. We’ve had four events so far where we have music and a barbecue and a big event where they can come and spray paint. We provide them with paints and boards and everything. Kids from about 14 to about 26 and some amazing artists.

Vital Stats: Laura Inks

Born: Nov. 20, 1958, Pittsburgh

Family: Children Camdon, 14, Olivia, 16, Amanda, 25, and Shawn, 31, and two granddaughters, Alonnah and Ashlee.

Professional Accomplishments: Founded ARTS ALIVE! Creativity Center; Award-winning art teacher; real estate agent and rookie of the year; Women’s Economic Ventures Entrepreneur of the Year

Civic Involvement: Community School Inc., Arts Mentorship Program; Santa Barbara Education Foundation, Keep the Beat

Little-Known Fact: “Probably that I have so many kids and that I adopted my two older kids.”

Kids have already gotten jobs from them being here and doing their work, and people coming up and saying,  “Wow, I’d like something like this on the inside of my dojo,” or “I’d really like this on the side of my building.”

LD: That’s exciting.

LI: Yeah, it is. Also, I want to expose them to other types of street art where they can move into some type of field where they can make a living. We just got a $5,000 grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara to cover the cost of what we’re calling the junior organizers. I’m kind of like the head organizer but I can’t do it alone.

… Every time we have an event we have between 100 and 150 people show up to paint or support the kids who are painting. And we also — this is really cool — the last time we had an event, the kids from the teen center who have been making music, who have been singing over at Chapala, like they are rappers and what they call DJs … they came and performed.

… I’m trying to just give them a space to be creative and an outlet for their art form, which I think is very valid. A lot of people don’t think that graffiti art is art, but that’s because it’s vandalism and they are out there on the streets doing it. So I’m trying to direct their energy into something that’s more positive and is more community-based.

We have had kids here from all different gangs, but it’s been so peaceful. It’s like the kids who are the artists, they really get what I’m doing and they’re respectful of it, which is amazing and it’s really cool.

LD: And I’m sure it’s in part because you are showing them respect for what they’re doing.

LI: Exactly. It’s a two-way street.

LD: Does it seem like the kids think of themselves as artists?

LI: Oh, yes, they absolutely do. They are very serious. They have color palettes, they have sketchbooks, they’re not just coming here tagging. These are artists who need a big venue to work in and, unfortunately, they take to the streets because they don’t have opportunities like what it is I’m trying to create, I am creating. It’s pretty cool. And I especially like being around all the young people because it keeps me young, it keeps me hip. Even though my teenage kids don’t think I’m hip (laughs).

LD: There’d be something wrong if they did.

LI: Absolutely that would be abnormal. But their friends think I’m cool. It takes a village. Like I’m taking somebody else’s kids and getting them in some positive direction and, hopefully, someone will do that with my kids.

LD: That’s a really cool project. How do people contact you now if they want to contribute or get involved?

LI: Just e-mail [email protected].

LD: You talked about applying for jobs now. Have you lost the urge to run your own business?

LI: Yeah. I kind of just want a paycheck. I don’t want to have sleepless nights anymore. When you have your own business there’s really no down time. … I’m at the age now, I’m going to be 50 this coming year, where I feel like I really don’t want to do something I’m not passionate about. I don’t want to just go punch a clock somewhere.

I’m just going to not stress it and be open to receive the direction of the universe. Not to sound airy-fairy but I think everything happens for a reason. There’s good energy out there and the right thing is going to come along.

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