Art and commerce bring hope to Skid Row
December 24, 1997
Web posted at: 4:58 a.m. EST (0958 GMT)
From Correspondent Betty Anderson
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Skid Row here is not too different from other poverty-stricken areas in other American cities. But for some people who have called these streets home, the holidays hold new hope.
"Skid Row is a place where people can go and hide and die," says Rolland Walker. "Not everybody on Skid Row is hopeless and helpless. They just need an opportunity."
Walker knows. He was once a successful businessman, but found himself on Skid Row after a heart attack left him addicted to prescription drugs. Now, he is the operations manager of the non-profit Skid Row Access, Inc.
Skid Row Access operates a mail-order catalog offering paintings, sculpture, T-shirts, and hand-made toys, all designed and created by artists who live on Skid Row, or in low-income housing.
For the Christmas shopping season, the company has also opened a store in a fashionable, upscale shopping mall. Walker hopes the store will become a year-round enterprise.
"They had these gifts and talents, artists and woodworkers," Walker said, "but they didn't have an outlet to merchandise their products."
Skid Row Access doesn't receive government funding -- "We don't even want to go there," Walker said -- but it hasn't escaped official attention. In a 1993 letter, then-President George Bush cited the company as an example for other communities.
At the store's manufacturing facility, artist Eddie Stokes creates sculptures that are one of the store's best sellers. He's already confident of a brighter future -- "The sky's the limit," he said.