Tak­ing artists out of the pic­ture

The Mu­sic Cen­ter cuts back on a ‘ pow­er­house’ ed­u­ca­tion ef­fort

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - Mike. boehm@ latimes. com david. ng@ latimes. com

BY MIKE BOEHM AND DAVID NG >>> Stu­dents at Don Ju­lian Ele­men­tary School in La Puente stud­ied the po­etry of Langston Hughes and Maya An­gelou this spring, but they did more than read and mem­o­rize the lines.

“We did a lot of things, like act­ing and mak­ing your voice big,” said Kather­ine Ar­gueta, a re­cent fourth- grader.

Teach­ing artists worked each week with the stu­dents, show­ing them how to make shadow pup­pets and pre­pare for a class po­etry per­for­mance.

“It was my fa­vorite part of the day,” chimed in Jared Macedo, who said he would like to be an ar­chi­tect when he grows up.

The pro­gram came from the Mu­sic Cen­ter and is de­signed to tap into the fun and imag­i­na­tive ap­peal of the arts, giv­ing kids an en­tic­ing path­way into aca­demic sub­jects.

But af­ter decades of send­ing artists into Los An­ge­les County schools, the Mu­sic Cen­ter has cut its ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment’s staff amid fundrais­ing short­falls, and the teach­ing artist pro­gram has been nearly elim­i­nated.

The Mu­sic Cen­ter has long prided it­self as an arts ed­u­ca­tion leader. But the re­duc­tion of the teach­ing artists has some lo­cal ed­u­ca­tors ques­tion­ing whether that is still the case.

“It was a na­tional pow­er­house pro­gram,” said Ni­cholas Golds­bor­ough, the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s for­mer chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, now UCLA as­so­ciate vice chan­cel­lor for fundrais­ing. “Un­for­tu­nately, it has lost a lot of the luster it once had.”

It will be up to Rachel Moore, the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s newly hired pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, to de­cide whether and how to rein­vig­o­rate its arts ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

“The per­form­ing arts is a frag­ile busi­ness. Some­times peo­ple have to make tough choices to build a sus­tain­able model,” said Moore, cur­rently the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New York’s Amer­i­can Bal­let Theatre, when asked last week about the pro­gram cuts.

Mu­sic Cen­ter lead­ers said the re­duc­tions in ed­u­ca­tion aren’t bud­get- re­lated but ref lect strate­gic and philo­soph­i­cal changes ini­ti­ated by its board mem­bers.

In­stead of send­ing teach­ing artists into class­rooms — a prac­tice that will con­tinue for a hand­ful of schools re­ceiv­ing out­side fund­ing — school teach­ers will come to the Mu­sic Cen­ter to learn­how to in­cor­po­rate the arts in lessons. More stu­dents will come to the Mu­sic Cen­ter to see per­for­mances.

“We can reach far more kids in a deeper way,” said Howard Sher­man, Mu­sic Cen­ter in­terim pres­i­dent.

For the 2013- 14 year, 35 teach­ing artists con­ducted 382 artist res­i­den­cies at 53 schools in 12 school dis­tricts, ac­cord­ing to the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s an­nual re­port on its arts ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

A Mu­sic Cen­ter spokes­woman said it cov­ered 50% of the cost of the pro­gram. In­di­vid­ual school dis­tricts made up the dif­fer­ence.

World mu­sic spe­cial­ist John Zeret­zke, a Mu­sic Cen­ter teach­ing artist for more than 30 years, said that about 25 teach­ing artists are ex­plor­ing form­ing “a con­sor- tium” to keep the pro­gram go­ing — ei­ther in­de­pen­dently or al­lied to an ex­ist­ing arts or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Par­ents and schools want artist ed­u­ca­tors in the schools do­ing high- end work that rep­re­sents ex­em­plary art,” Zeret­zke said.

The teach­ing artists were in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, but in re­cent months the Mu­sic Cen­ter has laid off five of 16 full- time em­ploy­ees in its ed­u­ca­tion di­vi­sion, in­clud­ing school pro­grams ini­tia­tive di­rec­tor Leonardo Bravo. Mark Slavkin, vice pres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion, pro­grams, re­signed in De­cem­ber. Slavkin said he didn’t know the lay­offs were com­ing at the time he left.

“I was in­cred­i­bly pained when the cuts were made,” said Slavkin, who now works at the Wal­lis An­nen­berg Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts in Bev­erly Hills. Even so, he doesn’t think the Mu­sic Cen­ter has aban­doned its com­mit­ments.

In­com­ing pres­i­dent and CEO Moore, with a 21- year track record of over­see­ing dance ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, said she wants to find a new Mu­sic Cen­ter vice pres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion even be­fore her Oct. 5 start date.

Over­all, Mu­sic Cen­ter ed­u­ca­tion- re­lated ex­pen­di­tures de­clined by more than half since the re­ces­sion be­gan, de­spite the im­prov­ing econ­omy and in­vest­ment mar­kets that have helped other large arts or­ga­ni­za­tions re­store pro­grams. Its public f inan­cial state­ments show that the ed­u­ca­tion di­vi­sion spent about $ 2.3 mil­lion last year, down from $ 4.8 mil­lion in 2006- 07.

Among the more prom­i­nent cuts were the an­nual Bravo Awards, honor­ing L. A. County teach­ers for their con­tri­bu­tions to arts ed­u­ca­tion. The awards were given for 30 years start­ing in 1982, then were qui­etly dis­con­tin­ued af­ter 2012.

Con­tin­u­ing pro­grams in­clude the Blue Rib­bon Chil­dren’s Fes­ti­val, an an­nual one- day per­form­ing arts pro­gram that brings more than 15,000 f ifth- graders to the Mu­sic Cen­ter; the Very Spe­cial Arts Fes­ti­val for spe­cial- needs stu­dents; and “Mu­sic Cen­ter on Tour,” a con­cert pro­gram that is now the main ve­hi­cle for the Mu­sic Cen­ter to reach stu­dents at school sites.

“On Tour” 2013- 14 f ig­ures show that the Mu­sic Cen­ter mounted 383 school as­sem­blies pro­vided by 42 en­sem­bles for more than 63,000 stu­dents at 131 schools.

“It feels as if we’ve lost some­thing big,” said Deb­bie Devine, head of 24th Street Theatre arts ed­u­ca­tion com­pany. “They had a huge vi­sion and a huge reach.” For Devine, the cuts sig­nal the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s re­treat from its long­time stand­ing as an ad­mired and im­i­tated leader in arts ed­u­ca­tion.

“They were the role model,” she said. “It’s tragic.”

Robert Lee, prin­ci­pal of Sun Val­ley Mag­net School, also thinks the Mu­sic Cen­ter is tak­ing a wrong turn. “The res­i­dent artist model [ pro­vides] sup­port, so the [ class- room] teacher gets more com­fort­able in­te­grat­ing arts,” he said. Re­ly­ing in­stead on teach­ers to go down­town to learn meth­ods and bring them back “doesn’t trans­fer very well” in ac­tual class­room prac­tice.

Lee added that op­por­tu­ni­ties for trips to the Mu­sic Cen­ter are lim­ited — im­peded for some schools by the cost of rent­ing buses but in his school’s case by a lack of slots for stu­dent groups. Lee said stu­dents from Sun Val­ley Mag­net School have had one field trip to the Mu­sic Cen­ter dur­ing his four years as prin­ci­pal.

Oth­ers sounded a more op­ti­mistic note. “Even if the Mu­sic Cen­ter isn’t able to do all it has in the past, I be­lieve other or­ga­ni­za­tions will step up. I think the Mu­sic Cen­ter is go­ing to re­bound,” said Rory Pul­lens, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the arts for the Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School Dis­trict. He adds that LAUSD arts spend­ing is on the re­bound, ex­pected to rise from the cur­rent $ 19 mil­lion to $ 24 mil­lion in the com­ing school year.”

The Mu­sic Cen­ter’s ed­u­ca­tion di­vi­sion was launched in 1979 by Dorothy Chan­dler to make up for cuts in public school arts bud­gets driven by the pas­sage of Propo­si­tion 13 in 1978. Af­ter 2000, two re­ces­sions and the No Child Left Be­hind pro­gram that em­pha­sized test­ing in ba­sic aca­demic sub­jects led to fur­ther win­now­ing of many public school arts classes.

For many stu­dents, work­ing with teach­ing artists has meant more than learn­ing a par­tic­u­lar les­son.

“It helped me gain courage to speak in front of large groups,” said Alexan­der Ci­fuentes, a re­cent Don Ju­lian fifth- grader.

“Who will be sad to see it go?” Don Ju­lian teacher Dar­lene Chico asked her fourth- and fifth- graders. All of the kids raised their hands.

Christina House For The Times

DON JU­LIAN stu­dents show some of their cre­ations. Teach­ing artists have worked with the school through a Mu­sic Cen­ter pro­gram.

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