US schools approach Hollywood for assistance
Miles from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the red carpet, Steve Shin belts out tunes on a piano scarred with nicks and love notes written in scratches, teaching children how to sing.
In scores of other middle schools, his students might have already learned how to read the notes on a scale. But years of cuts have stripped arts classes from much of the Los Angeles district, leaving many children in the world’s entertainment capital with no instruction in music, visual arts, dance or theater.
When Shin arrived for the first day of class, he quickly realized many of his students were starting from zero.
“A lot of them didn’t even know they were going to be in a music class,” he says.
Now the second-largest school district in the United States is trying to enlist Hollywood studios to “adopt” schools and provide students with equipment, mentorship and training as away to reverse the layoffs that have decimated the curriculum.
The financial picture is slowly changing. The arts budget has grown to $26.5 million, about 40 percent higher than five years ago, but still a fraction of the $76.8 millionsumthatwasonce available for the arts. For the next school year, it will increase to $32.3 million.
In 2014, the district hired former TV writer and producer Rory Pullens as its executive director for arts education. He has since hired an arts teacher at every school.
Pullens is convinced his work in a district that has 90 percent minority students will one day help diversify Hollywood — a widely discussed goal after the criticism of this year’s all-white list of Academy Award acting nominees. He has already met with Paramount, Universal and dozens of other industry leaders to solicit help.
“It is well within all of our powers, if we work together, to remedy that by really addressing the deeprooted symptoms and not just trying to put in a couple remedies on the surface,” Pullens says.
The renewed push for arts education in LA comes as new federal education policies stir hope that schools will begin shifting more time and money toward classes such as dance and drama.
Film and music studios have chipped in to help Los Angeles schools before, but their contributions tended to focus on the schools directly in their backyard: Warner Bros has provided funding to improve auditoriums at Burbank schools. Sony Entertainment Pictures has run career workshops at Culver City schools.
To date, the Los Angeles district has confirmed partnerships with Nickelodeon, Sunset Bronson Studios and Sunset Gower Studios.
Most of the donations have not reached students yet.
In Shin’s class, students get by with the bare minimum: an overhead projector displaying lyrics across the screen, two microphones and two standing lights placed in front of the class to make a stage-like performance space.
Shin calls on students as if they’re performing in a real concert in front of their peers. On a recent afternoon, they sang everything fromMexican ballads to angst-ridden songs by Adele.
Terry Quintero, 12, had never been in a music class before and now dreams of becoming a professional singer.
When she’s singing, Quintero says, she leaves everything that’s troublingherbehind.“Whatmatters right now,” she says, “is this class.”