Los Angeles has a lot of talent when it comes to arts-based charities, with an admirable focus on providing access and instruction in visual, literary and performing arts to young people in underserved communities. But even among all these creative philanthropic enterprises, City Hearts stands out as unique.
Across nearly 35 years and some 35,000 students engaged, City Hearts (founded in 1984) has been offering workshops, classes, serial program, and performance opportunities including studies of Shakespeare, playwriting, improv and dance — all of which are specifically designed to teach problem solving, bolster confidence, find and hone individual voices, and promote self-expression. These are valuable life skills that can be harder than usual to come by in neglected neighborhoods, and all the more crucial for achieving life’s dreams.
Among all these courses, perhaps most associated with City Hearts is its robust photography programming. Starting with the Fresh Focus: A New Shot at Life program, City Hearts organizers are firm believers that practicing photography encourages the development of a critical, analytical eye and attentiveness to detail and context. These facets can help students — as they help us all — to more fully understand the world around us, seen with fresh eyes. This too, they believe, is all the more crucial when the students face more than their fair share of challenges.
As many such organizations do, City Hearts has invited the support of artists and celebrities as sustainers of the nonprofit — but also, more excitingly, as educators. For example, legendary photographer Douglas Kirkland has recently been teaching photography classes, as well as individually mentoring some students.
In honor of this unique relationship to photography, it makes perfect sense that City Hearts' sixth annual benefit photo auction, show and fundraiser would be hosted by the photo-world hub of the Leica Gallery in West Hollywood, specifically in its lush upstairs gallery. This is more than an auction (though it is certainly that, and bidding is open through Saturday at 9 p.m.), it is also a proper exhibition. Curated by Noureddine El Warari and John Simmons, it movingly combines the donated work of established artists, shown alongside that of some of the program’s most talented students.