She wears graffitied jeans, has a short trendy haircut, and exudes more energy than a toddler on a sugar rush; Laura Inks is not your average arts advocate. Her liveliness is contagious, as is her enthusiasm for supporting music and arts in the community. Much of that enthusiasm is now being channeled into the Granada Theater, where Inks was recently appointed Director of Education.
“Art is my carrot,” said Inks. “It’s the thing I dangle in front of me to get me going.”
Having grown up in Pittsburg, Inks worked as an art teacher in her home state of Pennsylvania and then in Las Vegas before she made her way to Santa Barbara. When she saw that the arts were being neglected in schools here, the mother of four decided to act.
“I’m not the kind of person to complain,” Inks explained. “It was more of a ‘What can I do?'”
In her quest to support and enrich arts programs in the community, Inks has volunteered in schools, worked on the Santa Barbara Education Foundation ensuring that music education remains in the public schools, and acted as an advisor to the Patricia Henley Foundation for the creative arts. She founded the Arts Alive! creative center in 2004 and began offering a full program of classes and camps for children of all ages in a variety of visual and performing arts genres. In 2005, she was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Women’s Economic Ventures.
Last year, Inks sold Arts Alive! and spent a number of months looking for the next step before she was offered the position of House Manager at the Granada Theater.
“It would give me a paycheck, but it wouldn’t be my passion,” she said of the opportunity. A few weeks later, the Granada called again and offered her a position as Director of Education for the Arts. This time, she jumped at the chance. “The job is perfect for me because I can do most of it from home and come in when I need to,” said Inks, who admits to working six days each week instead of the required five.
With her new position at the Granada, Inks intends to do what she has been doing for the past 20 years: acting as an art education advocate, especially for at-risk and underprivileged youth in Santa Barbara.
Since taking her position at the Granada, Inks has been focused on getting high school students involved in the theater’s programs. Among these is the Teen Media Project, a new, free program that gives teens the resources to make their own films, and provides a forum where they can discuss ways of filming, give critiques, and share compliments through a peer-to-peer approach.
“These kids get out of school at 2pm, and what are they going to do for the rest of the day?” asked Inks. She hopes to gain a core group of students during the summer, and to attract more students during fall. Among the Granada’s other existing outreach programs is the Yellow Bus Series, which helps underprivileged kids to attend arts performances at the reduced price of $5.
At the same time as Inks plans to maintain these programs, she plans to carve a place for herself at the Granada. Just weeks after her arrival, she arranged for local drumming group Boom Chaka to open for the Japanese American percussion group TAIKOPROJECT. The 12-14 year-old drummers from Santa Barbara were thrilled to play on the same stage as the popular touring company. According to Inks, this type of experience can help young people form connections with professionals in the performing arts, and can inspire them to pursue an arts career in the future.
“I’m really on this earth to be an art educator and youth advocate,” Inks explained. “I just feel so blessed to be in this position.”
On Sunday, May 24th at 3pm, the Granada Music and Arts Conservatory presents its 23rd annual Young Soloists Showcase. All proceeds will benefit arts education at the Granada. For tickets, call 899-222 or visit granadasb.org.