In 1989, Bob Bates joined together with Irwin Jaeger to create Inner City Arts, a nonprofit organization that provides bilingual arts education for inner-city youth in Los Angeles. The idea for the program developed in response to funding cuts in the late 1980's, which eliminated arts education from the public schools in Los Angeles. Bates observed that the children were faced with crowded hotel and apartment housing, constant exposure to crime and drugs, vulnerability to gang activity and other daily pressures that were undermining their academic achievement. He also observed that their environment lacked the resources needed to provide a positive outlet.
The program initially served 550 children at one elementary school; today, the program serves more than 8,000 children each year. The program now runs out of The Mark Taper Center/Inner-City Arts Complex. This center was purchased with a $600,000 grant from the Mark Taper Foundation. It is entirely supported by private grants and donations and is located in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, an area considered one of the most economically depressed areas in the city.
For six weeks, third through sixth graders are bussed to the center for art instruction where they can study painting, sculpture, ceramics, music, drama and dance. For the first part of each session, artists introduce basic concepts to the children with the goal being to increase the vocabulary of the children.
The Inner City Arts program gives children creative tools that can be applied to the daily challenges they face. The curriculum is designed to promote creative self-expression, while developing increased intuitive and rational thinking skills, improved problem solving abilities.