We had the good fortune of connecting with Jill Gurr and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jill, do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
“What you give is what you get.” This is my motto in life and the title of my autobiography that I’m currently writing. I love it because I believe that the work we do and the energy we put out affects everything, like a ripple effect. Many people, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, live in fear. That attracts more of the same. However, if we generate positive actions and send loving thoughts to those in need, we can shift the focus to creating positive change.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Create Now empowers youth through arts education and mentoring. Since 1996, we’ve served 49,000+ young people ages 3-24 challenged by poverty, abuse, neglect, incarceration, left orphaned and/or homeless by producing healing workshops in music, dance, photography, fashion – ALL the arts you can imagine! Disadvantaged kids in schools take our classes in guitar, fine art, early education music, digital media, and writing. In addition, we bring thousands of families each year to concerts, plays, museums and Cirque du Soleil shows at premier venues through our Cultural Journeys program. Create Now’s annual arts festivals, talent shows and mural projects are a big hit in the community. What makes Create Now different from other arts organizations is that we match volunteer artists close to their neighborhoods through our network of 100+ youth agencies, like shelters, foster group homes and transitional-living shelters. We’re able to focus on the most vulnerable kids, and we customize our workshops. It’s almost like a dating-service, where based on your schedule, goals, locations, etc. we customize arts classes, help with lesson plans and curricula and provide all the arts supplies and equipment. Create Now culminates our programs with parties for the youth and they receive unique Certificates of Completion and lasting souvenirs to remind them about their accomplishments. We’re small but mighty. All of this is accomplished with a team of only three people who are very passionate and dedicated to providing arts classes to the “forgotten children” who have fallen through the cracks. We’re nimble, so when Covid-19 struck, our team launched Zoom arts classes. We just completed workshops in photography, cooking and fashion, and new classes are starting up. Create Now is able to tap into resources in the community. We make it easy for individuals and companies to give back. During the pandemic, we have distributed thousands of masks, sanitizers, clothing, diapers, and formula to families who are poverty-stricken. We arranged for a baby grand piano to be given to a mental health clinic that helps kids with emotional and behavioral challenges, and then matched them with a volunteer pianist to give these youth free piano lessons via Zoom. Create Now brought joy to hundreds of children who got special toys, clothes, and age-appropriate gifts for older youth. It has been an uphill battle to build Create Now. For 18 years, I volunteered almost full-time to grow the organization. I had been working as a script supervisor on movies with A-list talent in exotic locations all over the world. My life was exciting and glamorous. However, after working on “Menace II Society” and also meeting two young children on the streets of East LA in the middle of the night, I had to make a difference. I had written over 20 screenplays. Two were produced with Ed Asner and George Kennedy, and some of my scripts were optioned. Writing was my #1 passion. I was also offered high-paying jobs to work on movies. I put all of that on the back-burner after I taught two screenwriting workshops to groups of incarcerated juveniles. These kids went through profound transformations from my program. I did a TEDx Talk in Beverly Hills that tells the origin story of Create Now, which is on my website: www.jillgurr.com. I had to shift my script supervising work from feature films to commercial productions so I could support myself, while having time to build my nonprofit organization. That meant developing new production relationships with commercial agencies, which took some time. It was hard to pay my rent. I worked as a temporary assistant in DTLA for a couple of months and barely scraped by. Then luckily, my commercial work took off. I was able to pay off my bills and follow my dream. Currently, Create Now is flourishing in spite of the pandemic. We’re partnering with Apple on an exciting project and have just completed our first program. Even though students are struggling to attend school via remote learning, we had a waiting list, and the kids loved it. We’re partnering with companies like Havaianas to launch programs. Our “Sip and Paint” benefit will be held via Zoom on Saturday, March 27 from 5:00 pm-9:00 pm with host comedian Debra Wilson (MADtv). There will be three fun arts projects for kids and adults. For only $30-$50, donors will receive a gift box with all the arts supplies and a bottle of wine. You’ll also have the chance to meet our alumnus Tasha Caufield and hear her success story – and to socialize during “Happy Hour”. More details are at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When most people come to visit, they want to see the tourist sites. I live right by the Hollywood sign, so they would immediately see that, and we’d eat at the Beachwood Café. I would take them for a drive around the hills, and then a hike at Lake Hollywood, and of course to see Hollywood Blvd., Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, etc.. There’s also the Getty Museum and the Griffith Park Observatory. My favorite restaurants in Hollywood are Musso and Frank’s, Yamashiro’s and Thai Patio, located in Thai Town Village. I also love the Pacific Dining Car in the Ramparts District. I would drive through Chinatown and show them Union Station and the Arts District. Create Now is located next to STAPLES and LA Live so they would see that part of DTLA.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to give a Shoutout to Wanda Patterson. My life changed in 1991, after working as a script supervisor on a film called “Menace II Society,” which was about the Black Lives Matter movement. Shortly thereafter, I was working on a film production in East Los Angeles. It was a weeknight around 2:00 a.m. and two young boys were hanging out with the film crew. I asked where their parents were. The eight year-old said, “I don’t know where my mother is and my father don’t give a bleep.” I was shocked. But it turns out that the boy was not an anomaly: Los Angeles has more homeless and foster children than anywhere in the nation, and more incarcerated youth than the rest of the world. Armed with this knowledge, I knew I had to make a difference. I contacted all the juvenile detention facilities and volunteered to teach a screenwriting workshop. Nobody returned my calls. A year later, the LA Riots took place. Itching to do something positive, I volunteered with a group of people and met Wanda, who worked at Optimist Youth Homes, a juvenile detention center in Highland Park. With her help, I began to teach a screenwriting workshop to 30 incarcerated teenage boys who were locked up for serious crimes, like rape, theft and assault. Wanda was always there to guide me. She helped to navigate difficult situations, and opened my eyes to the challenges these kids faced. As I got to know them, my perspective wholly changed: if I had been in their shoes, I might have also lashed out and committed crimes, too. Through this workshop, something astonishing happened: these kids learned how to read and write. Their self-esteem and confidence sky-rocketed. They wanted to stay in school and apply to college. One gang leader even had loyalty tattoos removed from his neck and hand. Based on this success, I taught a second screenwriting workshop at a co-ed detention facility, and I got the same results. A Hollywood TV producer heard about my successes and offered me $5,000 to start my charity, Create Now. I agreed: my experiences with the incarcerated teens compelled me to change the lives of the “forgotten children,” those who have fallen through the cracks. If it wasn’t for Wanda, then Create Now probably would not exist. She was a successful stained-glass artist based in Hawaii. After living in Los Angeles for many years, Wanda has returned to Hawaii. At 85 years-old, she is exploring her creative skills again.