Producer Michael Sugar, L.A. County Arts Commission’s Kristin Sakoda Honored at ArtworxLA 27th Annual Gala

Chris Devlin
Michael Sugar (left) and Lamar Outlaw

Sugar accepted the honor from an artworxLA student with whom he hopes to collaborate on future projects.

ArtworxLA, which enlists arts industry professionals to speak to and teach teens from continuation high schools and juvenile halls to lower the high school dropout rate in Los Angeles County, held its 27th annual fundraising gala at Taglyan Cultural Center in Hollywood on Thursday night to honor Los Angeles County Arts Commission executive director Kristin Sakoda and film producer Michael Sugar.

“We start telling stories from the time we were children. Storytime is the first thing we learn to do as a socialized organized task. All art is a form of storytelling,” Sugar told The Hollywood Reporter. “Continuing that is really key to ensuring that people continue to find the joy that they did in their childhood as they grow into the real world.”

ArtworxLA has provided 12,000 students with arts-based education (from fine arts to film and music) in 50 “alternative education” classrooms across L.A. County since its founding, according to the event's organizers. Those seeds of “creative, tangible and transferrable skills” planted in the county’s youth help to lead them down the path of their dream arts-based careers. The foundation also provides these students scholarships to local art universities, artworxLA executive director Shelby Williams-Gonzalez told THR.

“The arts connect us to our humanity. It's a form of cultural literacy, and we know that kids who have the arts in their school integrated into other subjects or taught separately, have better school attainment,” Sakoda told THR. “It allows for space for creative voice and social and emotional wellness.”

The evening began with an art show. Among the works of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were pieces by artworxLA students, including embroidered renditions of rock star David Bowie and art legend Frida Kahlo.

“You see something click in the students that say, 'Well, I've tried that. I can do that,’ and it's just a ripple effect of positivity,” Williams-Gonzalez told THR. “If you are successful in one project, you're going to try the next. You're going to challenge yourself in ways that maybe you haven't thought of before.”

Under an ornate, lit-up rotunda, attendees watched three “Little Docs” featuring artworxLA students and alumni discussing their artistic passions: film, music and fashion. One of those docs focused on 17-year-old student Lamar Outlaw, who has been with artworxLA for about a year. He spoke about the advice Sugar gave him. “[Sugar] told me he wants to tell stories, where people will talk about it beyond a story, beyond a movie and pull lessons out of it and scenes out of it. That's where I tie in music, because music is a way that people express feelings, and then film is a way that people tell stories,” Outlaw told THR. “If you tie it all together, it's magical.”

After each Little Doc, students presented the evening’s honorees. Outlaw introduced Sugar, who commented, “Lamar has been unbelievable. Just seeing his excitement and passion grow when he gets to do the things that he wants to do. I got here tonight, and he just couldn't wait to show me the new work that he's been doing on his movie. He's awesome."

Sugar also took a moment to discuss his latest production endeavor, the Steven Soderbergh-directed drama Laundromat about the Panama Papers scandal. When asked about his penchant for journalistic-themed projects (Spotlight, I Am the Night, The Fifth Estate), he said he “loves journalists” and maybe that appreciation stems from his first job outside of college: working at The Hollywood Reporter.

“Storytelling is everything to me, and there's no more important storytellers than the ones who make sure that we are holding institutions accountable especially now,” said Sugar. "I'm drawn to stories that celebrate the hard work of the real storytellers. I've done a lot of things that are not about journalists, but actually I've done a lot about journalists.”