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Brentwood Art Center Reclaimed by Community, Starts Anew

The 40-year-old school, considered a treasure by many in West Los Angeles, signs a three-year lease under a new organizational structure. "There's nothing like it in L.A.," says a Santa Monica resident.

Classes resumed Monday at the Brentwood Art Center, five weeks after news broke of its sudden closure. An outpouring of support allowed the school to restructure itself as a nonprofit and sign a three-year lease to its space at 13031 Montana Ave.

Students in Wednesday's watercoloring class rejoiced to return to the 40-year-old Los Angeles art haven and what many call a community treasure.

"It's like a rebirth," said Barbara Ashton, who's been teaching at the school for 20 years. She said the abrupt news of its shuttering felt "like the death of a friend."

"There's a tremendous amount of energy and joy to see the school live on," she said.

Marilyn Black, of Santa Monica, and Polo Roth, of Beverly Hills, sat together in the watercoloring class working on their latest pieces. They've become friends over their time attending the Brentwood Art Center. Roth, who's been attending since 1985, added that she started off sketching in pencil, then transferred to charcoal drawing, then oil and now finds herself dabbling in watercolor.

"They try to mix it up and it's interesting," she said about types of art classes offered.

Cynthia Sambeat, of Pacific Palisades, said she loves the school's travel program, which she's participated in for several years. It's taken her to Italy and France.

"I love the feeling of community [here] in a creative atmosphere with lots of other people," she said. "I love the teachers and they make great friendships with the students. You can escape to it and do something you love."

When Santa Monica resident Chris Green moved to California from England in 1993, he said a friend drove him around, and during that drive, Green pondered where he could go to improve his watercolor painting skills. At that moment during the drive, their vehicle drove by the Brentwood Art Center and stopped. Green has been coming ever since.

"It's been life-changing," he said, noting he's had his work on display at various galleries in Santa Barbara.

Miranda Tollman, of Santa Monica, said it was her son Jake's suggestion to start a lemonade stand and car wash to bring back the school. He's a student in the school's sculpting class.

"There's nothing like it in L.A.," Tollman said, adding her mother's in a photography class at the school. "It's been reclaimed by Santa Monica and by its students."

Lloyd Bookman and Don Burris of the Friends of the Brentwood Art Center were esctatic on Wednesday to see the school bustling inside, while a sign hung outside stating 'We're Back.' Don's wife Patti has taught at the school since it opened, and Lloyd's wife Beth has also been involved with the school for many years.

"It's professional first-rate instruction for kids and adults," he said, noting they were determined to make sure the school did not close for good. "The students stuck with us. Enrollment is much higher and we got the buzz back. It's exciting."

The school still seeks volunteers and donations toward its future. For more information on classes and how to get involved with the Friends of the Brentwood Art Center, visit its website.

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