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Campaign launched to promote arts education in L.A. Unified

Donors and school officials Monday launched a multimillion-dollar public awareness campaign to promote arts instruction in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The unveiling of a “bus wrap,” designed by a local artist, prompted cheers and unleashed a massive student dance number in front of the Torres High School Academies in East Los Angeles. But the prospects for arts in the nation’s second-largest school system are mixed — such programs, like others, have suffered from waves of budget cuts.

The campaign, called “Arts Matter,” consists of messages on “hundreds of billboards, bus shelters, wall postings, mall media and bulletins,” according to organizers. It’s being spearheaded by the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, which raises money for projects related to L.A. Unified schools. Those signed up to tweet encouraging messages include singer Justin Bieber and entertainer/producer Ryan Seacrest.

Monday’s event featured a bus covered with the edgy, whimsical, boldly lettered work of Barbara Kruger. The phrases on the bus included: “Give your brain as much attention as you do your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off”; “from here to there”; “Don’t be a jerk”; and “You want it. You buy it. You forget it.”

“I was thrilled to be able to do it,” said Kruger. “I care about public education. You just can’t underestimate the power of teaching in determining the arc and trajectory of a young person’s life. And I care about the place of arts in education — in crisis as it appears to be.”

As it happened, students from the Humanitas Academy at Torres had been studying Kruger’s work and displayed posters they created that were inspired by her style. The team of Jaclyn Martinez, Frida Sanchez and William Navarro produced a black-and-white poster of a student (Martinez) who is reflected in a mirror with what appears to be cocaine and pills laid out in front of her and the word “FAIL” written in lipstick at the top of the mirror. At the bottom of the poster, in bright red letters, is written: “Drugs are a fast way to nowhere.”

“We were inspired by how she wrote in red letters,” said Martinez, 18, a senior. “The lines of cocaine and pills are actually flour and Tic-Tacs.”

Such an integration of art, social studies and technology (the students used a computer in making the poster) is precisely the direction envisioned by new learning standards for students that have been adopted nationwide, said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. It’s also the intent of an arts education resolution, written by school board member Nury Martinez, that will be taken up Tuesday by the L.A. Board of Education.

Arts initiatives have been launched before but proved difficult to sustain.
 
The new East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy at Torres is emblematic of this flow and ebb. The school provided the mob of enthusiastic dancers for the event. And it’s one of 18 performing arts schools or magnet programs in L.A. Unified.

Principal Carolyn McKnight has a dance studio, a new performance space and community partners but lacks the budget to hire more than one full-time dance teacher. And cutbacks in arts programs have resulted in students reaching high school with limited arts exposure and training.

The current campaign is reaching out via Twitter (@LAFund), Facebook, TumblrPinterest and the LA Fund’s website. To donate $10 to L.A. Unified arts programs, text 'LA Fund' to 80888.

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-- Howard Blume

 
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