CITY OF SANTA ANA, CA
Mayor Miquel Pulido

Koo’s Cafe

Koo's Art Cafe's primary purpose is to provide a community gathering place where youth disenfranchised by social and economic boundaries can participate in arts-related events, educational lectures, and community interest discussions. In an open forum, Koo's explores the expressive arts by channeling violent and destructive energy into creative' expression, consensus and community building.

Koo's operates in the city of Santa Ana, which has one of the younger populations in the nation. Of the approximately 310,000 residents in Santa Ana, about 140,000 are under the age of 24, according to the latest census data. There are few alternative to drugs, depression and delinquency for Santa Ana's young population. Until recently, only one place – Koo’s Café – has cultivated a proactive environment in the arts, which explains why more than 60,000 youths have visited Koo's in the last three years. Koo’s focuses on youths ages 12 to 18 in the city of Santa Ana and countywide.

Koo's Youth Center empowers its community through the arts with its core programs: the 17th Parallel break dance group , the Mural Project and the Awareness Through Arts and Community (ATAC) Program.

17th Parallel is a troupe of local youths who employ their skills in break dance to communicate their feelings about their surroundings. Create by Seth Wilder, 17th Parallel has grown from 12 to' 30 dancers in two years, rousing national commercial attention and the critical praise of the urban music culture. Through the program, dancers have learned to work as a team while building artistic confidence. When asked about his involvement with the troupe, dancer Tony Trejo remarked that breaking helps him "avoid negative distractions."

Through its Mural Project, Koo's has given a forum for graffiti artists to express themselves without breaking the law. In the past three years, the Graffiti Mural has helped reduce vandalism by nearly 80% in the immediate area. Supervised by Wilder himself a visual artist, the young graffiti artists understand that as Koo's guests, they are responsible for keeping the community free of vandalism. Some of these artists have been given the opportunity to develop their artistic talent through commercial work: signs logos and graphic design.

The third major element of Koo's mission is "to promote social awareness through creative expression." A core group of 50 youth participants make up the Awareness Through Arts & Community (ATAC) Program, which was conceptualized by Koo'; executive director, Dennis Lluy, who noted, "One of our goals is to build a videoconferencing network of youth art center throughout the nation for collaborative workshops on community issues." Koo's clientele represent a diverse cross section of this county's racial, social and economic backgrounds.

The youth oriented program teaches organization and leadership dolls associated with hosting educational lectures, art exhibits, and public performances of 'music, poetry, and comedy. Together, ATAC participants have coordinated more than 500 arts related events and educational workshops. Participation in ATAC revolves around tolerance and acceptance of others while simultaneously teaching team building and working together for a common purpose. Self-esteem, poise and confidence grow within the participants commensurate with their involvement in Koo's activities. As a result of her experience, ATAC participant Daia Marzolo said, "As an athlete, it is hard to be an individual. There is a lot of pressure to conform to the people around you. I've learned at Koo's that it is okay to be different, and not to be afraid when expressing my ideas and opinions."

Koo's integrates its arts programs with educational guest speakers. Outside organizations and professionals have conducted workshops on tobacco awareness, AIDS prevention, sexal harassment, gender awareness and empowerment. Koo's also works with the Santa Ana Police Department on gang prevention and redirection. In addition, Koo's conducts weekly meetings with the ATAC program participants. Meetings give participants an informal forum to discuss how they feel Koo's is serving them and the community. The feedback provided in these meetings is documented and serves as an essential internal evaluative tool.

Annually, Koo's hosts an average of 180 concerts and offers arts-related events; which account for most of Koo's revenue – $5 donations that patrons, many of whom are youth, contribute on a day to day basis. In addition, Koo's also receives financial support and private donors and foundations.

In 1998 Koo's was awarded a $10,000 grant by the MTV and Microsoft-sponsored Do Something Foundation, a nonprofit organization with aims toward seeding the nation with community activists age 30 and under. More than 600 organizations allied nationwide; among the 25 finalists, Koo's won one of 10 grants.

Koo's is part of Santa Ana's French Court Neighborhood Association, which has hailed the art center for its involvement in the community. Koo's works with the City of Santa Ana and its agencies in various Other ways. As a supporter of Koo's for the past five years. Mayor Mignel Pulido mentored Koo's staff and advised Koo's in areas such as community relations, outreach, and fund-raising. In 1997, Koo's collaborated with Santa Ana's Council of Art and Culture to conceptualize the now annual Santa Ana Artwalk.

Koo's also plays a key role in creating strategies for programs that serve at-risk youth within the city's Empowerment Zone and looks to collaborate with Latino Health Access and the Discovery Nature Center to develop a community garden that combines art, ecology and community activism. Further, Koo's is building a partnership with The Discovery Museum of Orange County, where young people learn to apply their artistic talent by creating art with recycled materials. In the past five years, thousands of people have been drawn to Koo's.


 
 


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