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Prince William, Catherine head to skid row to visit Inner-City Arts

July 10, 2011 |  9:10 am

Inner-City Arts

Prince William and wife Catherine, on their last day in Southern California, are headed to skid row to visit Inner-City Arts, a nonprofit that has been providing free arts instruction to children growing up in poverty since 1989. The visit will highlight two of the prince’s charitable interests: assisting homeless youth and promoting the arts. On the green and leafy Inner-City campus, surrounded by some of Los Angeles’ grittiest streets, the excitement was palpable.

Kate and William “It is so exciting,” said Cynthia Harnisch, president of Inner-City Arts. “Everyone is feeling so uplifted that the most famous couple in the world are coming to their campus, are visiting their neighborhood.”

Harnisch, who has been working with the British consulate-general in Los Angeles on developing international links for the center, was informed just three weeks ago that William and Catherine wished to visit.

“I almost fell off my chair,” Harnisch said. “We’re one of thousands and thousands of agencies doing good work with youngsters.”

She hopes the royal visit will increase awareness of the capacity of an arts education to unlock the creative potential in children, especially those growing up with the challenges of poverty.

Most of the 10,000 children who attend classes live below the poverty line, and 90% come from families where English is not the first language. Many are bused in from local elementary schools as part of their arts curriculum. The center also offers after-school classes for teens and instruction for teachers on bringing the arts into the classroom.

The focus, Harnisch said, isn’t on training professional dancers, musicians and  sculptors, but on using the arts to level the academic playing field and inspire children to succeed.

“And it’s working,” she said. “Our work with the U.S. Department of Education … shows that if we spend about 10 hours or more with classroom teachers, then they start having staggering increases in standardized test scores.”

The students describe the place as a haven from the drugs, violence, gangs and privation that mar their communities.

“It’s like my second home,” said 15-year-old Iliana Samaniego, who lives in the neighborhood and has been attending classes since elementary school. “Outside, you don’t see art all over your walls. You see graffiti.”

During their visit, the couple will get a chance to paint and get their hands into some clay with children working in the center’s professional studios.  They will then walk over to a converted 1930s Studebaker repair shop that houses performing-arts classes to watch Samaniego and 15 other teens perform two dance routines.

Faces glistening with sweat, the youth spent hours Saturday polishing their routines.  One fuses salsa, hip-hop and other styles into a high-energy display of urban youth culture. The other incorporates stark images of homelessness and despair into an appeal to end poverty around the world.

The troop already has danced for visiting members of Congress, but none of them expected they would one day perform for royalty.

“I didn’t think there was still kings and queens,” said Lorenzo Perez, a 19-year-old from South  Los Angeles. “It’s like a Disney movie.”

He hopes the visit will inspire William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to support programs like Inner-City Arts. “With your help, we can change the world,” he said.

Samaniego hopes the couple might be inspired to try a few dance moves of their own.

“We’re just a couple kids,” she said with a grin. “Loosen up and be yourselves with us.”

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-- Alexandra Zavis

Photos: A troupe of teens at Inner-City Arts rehearses a dance they plan to perform for the royal couple, July 9, 2011. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times. Kate and William arrive in Los Angeles on July 8, 2011. Credit: Mike Nelson / EPA

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