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Arts groups try to rally support for school funding

December 22, 2008 |  3:41 pm

Los Angeles schoolchildren learning drama from a professional actor or ballet from a skilled dancer might lose their teachers next semester if the Los Angeles Unified School District continues to freeze funding for programs employing outside contractors. District officials say the freeze will hold at least until the California Legislature reconvenes in mid-January.

Balletshoes This crunch is especially felt by the 80 organizations comprising the Arts Community Partnership Network, which aren’t being paid and whose absence will greatly limit arts programming throughout the district.

Though standard art and music classes taught by LAUSD teachers are scheduled to continue uninterrupted, students will miss the opportunity to learn from working professionals.

ACPN-run programs go beyond the typical hour spent memorizing Shakespeare. The music arm of ACPN alone spends $2.2 million on an instrument repair shop that services roughly 35,000 instruments a year. These instruments are used by the 190 elementary school orchestras and 200 middle and high school ensembles throughout the district.

“This doesn’t just affect arts education; it affects the entire district,” said Danielle Brazell, executive director of Arts for L.A., an arts education organization that oversees ACPN. “It’s very important to acknowledge and understand that our students need quality education regardless of state or district budgets.”

The spending freeze, which ACPN learned about via e-mail on Dec. 12, affects the entire school district, not simply the arts programs. With the state deficit growing and funding uncertain, officials were forced to weigh the immediate needs of students against programs it thought were expendable, said Megan Reilly, chief financial officer for LAUSD. Learning to paint lost out to supplying ink for printers, she said.

More after the jump...

For small organizations such as the 24th Street Theatre, a production and education center downtown that counts funny man Jack Black among its alums, the freeze threatens to halt operations. More than half of the theater’s revenue comes from its $308,000 contract with the school district, which is meant to reach 11,000 students during the academic year. Because the majority of classes are held in the spring semester, the freeze could prevent as many as 9,000 children from taking classes with professional actors and spending a day frolicking through the theater.

Big contractors such as the Music Center downtown are not worried about shutting down, but they do lament that without enough funding, Los Angeles’ thriving artistic community could be weakened.
“Our concern is that small organizations and artists who have been relying on these funds don’t have a backup plan, and if they don’t get paid, they’re in a pretty difficult situation,” said Mark Slavkin, vice president of education at the Music Center.

Unable to supplement their incomes, some artists might move out of Los Angeles or, even worse, switch trades just to pay their bills, Slavkin suggested.

“Even if things get better, artists might not want to work with the LAUSD again,” he said.
In a frantic rush to secure funding for spring, the ACPN is urging arts-minded people to sign petitions and contact school officials. The 24th Street Theatre is hoping that comedian Black can recruit other celebrities to join the cause and use their fame to push arts programming in Los Angeles.

District officials warn that despite community concerns, the freeze will continue until they receive word about funding from the state, which might not be until late in the semester.

--Alicia Lozano

Photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times


 
Comments () | Archives (8)

As former director of the American Composers Forum/LA, I worked closely with Debbie Devine and Jay McAdams, at both the 24th Street Theater and at Poseidon School where Devine works magic with kids --like the marvelous Jack Black-- for whom this school is their last chance. I would really like to point out, however, that because of cuts in arts education in the public schools over the years and the concern of foundations and government arts agencies to maintain a level of arts education in these schools, arts organizations--whose primary job is to serve and promote artists and their ability to make art--have been taken down a funding road for which they have scrambled to be prepared. Not valued for helping create art and promote a thriving artistic community, arts organizations have had to make a 90-degree shift in their missions in order to take up the slack left by flaccid educational funding in the arts most certainly in the state of California, thereby to find the funding they need to survive. That they are now penalized for being forced to make this shift is unconscionable. Furthermore, patronage so desperately needed by artists in a civilized society is also diverted to pay for the arts education the state refuses to pay. If society will always pay for what it values, its spending habits are a sad commentary on where it places the arts.

Debbie Devine and Jay McAdam, artistic directors of 24th Street Theatre, work daily miracles with thousands of kids, bringing them into the world of theater as artists, not just onlookers. They create a world, an environment, a safe place for kids to imagine, to dream and to get beyond their daiily lives. It's what the arts can do, and have done, strengthening and enriching the entire learning experience for kids. Arts are the soul of learning. It's what makes science an art.

This funding freeze directly affects an astounding number of teachers, children, artists and organizations. The petition is up at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/restore-funding-for-lausds-arts-partners, and Arts for LA (which is an independent nonprofit and does NOT oversee the ACPN network, as reported) is organizing a multi-level advocacy campaign at www.artsforla.org. Los Angeles has become a national model for quality sequential arts education; we can't destroy the progress LAUSD and the Arts for All programs have made over the past nine years for a short-term fix for the county's financial woes.

Cut the District budget, yes, we have no choice. But the Arts? What a waste.

First, let’s just do the math: most of those $8,000,000 (out of a $10 billion+ overall budget) per annum the District has allocated for Arts Education are double, triple and quadruple matched by community based partners; nonprofits, private donors, foundations and volunteers whose net contribution is never calculated at the District level. Unlike booting a person or department that is a net drain, freezing Arts funding actually shuts off an influx of matching resources and services to LAUSD students and pulls the plug on one of the best partnership and ROI models the fiscally disastrous District has ever implemented.

In addition to proven added economic value, the Arts create bridges between cultures, classes, neighborhoods and ability levels, honoring all, excluding none, and supporting young people in working together peaceably and productively (that includes gang prevention and intervention). Studies show that students who participate in Arts programs drive the bar up in other areas of their lives: academic achievement, social development, citizenship and community engagement. A 2008 Dana Foundation study correlates data from seven leading universities across the United States that show neurological development acceleration unique to young people who are engaged in the Creative Arts. Students engaged in the Arts get smarter faster!

Let’s be honest with ourselves, here. The ultimate price tag for eliminating the Arts in schools will far surpass all the savings we are now contemplating. It is no less than the nourishment of our children’s spirit, intelligence, and creativity that we are abandoning; no less than the development of decent citizens that we are neglecting; and no less than the future of our civilization that we are ignoring if we allow this to happen.

There are heroes inside and outside the District who are trying to save the Arts and other targeted programs of value, save the best of LAUSD and save the lives of its 750,000 students because they really believe in “…the equal worth and dignity of all students and are committed to educate all students to their maximum potential." (LAUSD Mission Statement excerpt) I stand with them and I urge all L.A. citizens to do the same in whatever way you can. Let’s hold the decision makers accountable on behalf of our children and our great, great grandchildren.

Just one man’s opinion, but in these times of difficult, either/or choices, I’m for investing in the future of our children and preparing them to take our culture to a better place.

Our children are the greatest investment we have. Would you take a ten dollar bill you had invested in the stock market and chop one third of the bill off and toss it away, therefore insuring it's lack of value in the future? No, you wouldn't. Eliminating or even decreasing arts education in the schools insures that these children will grow up less equipped to be successful, productive, and happy adults. And freezing existing contracts in mid-year is a bad, irresponsible, perhaps illegal, business decision which will impact hundreds if not thousands of local jobs at a time when every job is precious to the local ecomony.

I'm not sure I understand why, at a time when public officials just spent $240 million to build Eli Broad's Arts High School # 9, the second most-expensive high school in the country, they then turn around and freeze arts education program funding for students who might attend that school?

Public officials should not be squandering a substanial investment California taxpayershave made in this new school at this point and time, given our "economic crisis." I hope they consider that for the want of a nail, that kingdom they've built downtown off the freeway, could be lost.

My company, Southland Opera, is part of the ACPN partnership. I am in the classroom every day doing these programs and so my experience is first hand. This program is changing the lives of these children, really changing their lives. It gives them hope, it helps them become better learners and it shows them this whole other world where they can express themselves. When they work as a group creating art, they look outside of themselves and learn to work as a team, as an ensemble. These are skills that are so important to a growing child.

I am one of the original members of this network; in order to even qualify to be on this network we have to show how our work ties in with the core educational standards, in addition to the arts standards. So really we are delivering core subject matter, it just happens to be in an artistic format.

Children learn in different ways, some by listening, others through music, some from movement, just to name a few ways. These arts programs reach those students who have trouble learning in the usual format.

All of the students benefit from these programs. Also, the teachers benefit as well, it gives them new ideas on how to teach their students and they also see just how smart their students are. The most common feedback is, "I never knew that my students could do so much in such a short period of time." We are restoring our faith in our kids, by showing just how bright they can shine.

The budget for this network is so small compared to so many other things.

Everyone is scared, the economy is a mess, BUT, the decisions we make from here on will show who we are and what our priorities are, what we believe to be important. LA Unified's ACPN Program is something other districts would like to have, you are a leader, it is an amazing program that is the envy of others.

LAUSD, you need to continue to be a leader, in the face of tough choices, show everyone else that you are here to act in the best interest of these students, that you won't let fear cause you to cut the budget where you know you shouldn't.

Thank you

LAUSD needs to continue to support arts education as an integral part of its curriculum. Now is not the time to stop. Every public school District must have the courage to remain firm in its committments and not succumb to the short term inertia of partisan squabbling. Let us hope our government re-focuses quickly!


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