Just because school’s out for most kids, the next three months don’t have to mean the dumbing down of L.A. students. Summer can be a chance for kids to delve into subjects they don’t have time to during the school year, to flex their creative muscles and try something new.
In a city as culturally rich and diverse as Los Angeles, kids have plenty of options. From Wilshire to Watts to Costa Mesa, there are dozens of arts opportunities for children during the summer, many of which won’t break their parents’ banks.
Some of the Southland’s most prestigious arts organizations, often off-limits to or too expensive for children to attend during the winter months, open their doors for affordable children’s arts education in the summertime. The Los Angeles Philharmonic holds one of the country’s largest children’s music festivals, “Musical Treasures of the World,” at the Hollywood Bowl, July 7-Aug. 15, with performances and workshops Mondays-Fridays and different themes each week. Performances cost just $3 per child, and workshops in dance, singing, puppetry, arts and crafts are just $1.
“This program is a way of getting kids familiar with live performance, which they may or may not have the opportunity to experience that often,” Karin Gustave, manager of Community and Education Programs for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, says of the festival, now in its 29th season. “This summer we’re trying to present world music. We want kids to get a taste of different cultures and where music originates.”
Chris Aihara, who heads the Japanese American Cultural Center’s education department, also believes summers are a good time for kids to learn about the diverse cultures that make up L.A. “The way the community has suburbanized, with so much out-marriage, we find children have lost touch with their traditional culture,” she says.
The JACC’s two-week summer program puts an emphasis on exposure to Japanese culture, focusing on taiko drumming and drum making, cooking, dance, origami, arts and crafts.
Janet Mitsui Brown has enrolled her daughter, Tani, 8, in the JACC’s summer program for three years running. Tani’s father is African American, and her mother is Japanese. “I want to make sure she maintains her identity,” Janet Brown says of her daughter. “And this program makes her proud of who she is.” But Brown would also recommend the program for any child who is interested in learning about another culture. The Pacific Asia Museum and the Plaza de la Raza offer programs that allow children to explore Asian and Latino cultural traditions.
Growing up in Los Angeles, children also have access to exceptional museums, theaters and dance companies that have summer arts programs. Costa Mesa’s prestigious South Coast Repertory Theatre has been offering a Young People’s Conservancy during the summer since 1974.
“We have always had a strong commitment to community and education,” Young Conservancy Director Lisa Beth Allen says. “There’s a feeling here that theater, in addition to being about entertainment, is about discovery. And for a child that comes in the form of participating in classes. Our hope is that they will find a joy in the act of creation, find themselves empowered in their own creative life, and also that they will love theater.”
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art offers weeklong summer art camps for children ages 6-12 during the month of August that cost $75. By holding art classes in a museum, kids have the chance to work with and learn from the museum’s vast permanent collection and to study the likes of Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso and Pollack.
“The kids actually get to go through the galleries, see famous artists and have some art education,” says Ximena Minotta, education operations assistant at LACMA. “Students get to see a finished product of what they are doing in the workshops. They will study Picasso, and then go see a Picasso.”
Other summer opportunities for children come in the form of community outreach programs, many of which are sponsored by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. Cartoonist David Brown, whose work has been featured on TV’s “Roseanne” and in the film “New Jack City,” teaches comic book art classes at the Watts Towers Arts Center.
“In the summer especially, when kids have idle time on their hands, if they don’t get involved with something with focus, they will be drawn into all the other negative things out there,” says Brown, who has been teaching classes at the Watts Arts Center for three years. This summer, his comic book art course for ages 12-17 will culminate in the production of an original comic book.
Oscar Madrigal, 19, a first-generation Mexican American who grew up living across the street from the arts center and is now a freshman at El Camino College, took animation classes with Brown for three summers. When TriStar Pictures called the art center looking for an intern for the story department, Madrigal was ready.
“I think one of the main functions of the art center during the summer is that it gives kids something to do,” Madrigal said. “When you can’t afford summer camp, it’s hard. I took classes at Watts since I was 7 years old, and I was always hanging out there, always hanging around good role models.”
“Sure, not all the kids in my workshops are going to be great artists,” Brown admits. “But it gives them something to work toward. They can develop their artistic skills and have a sense of accomplishment. And art is the vehicle.”
* AND THERE’S MORE
From Thousand Oaks to Laguna Beach, Southern California is home to numerous summer arts programs for children. For a select listing, see Page 35.