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Arts School Cultivates Children’s Creativity

Times Staff Writer

Standing on hardwood floors, four little girls positioned tiny violins under their chins and clutched baby bows in their right hands. Their instructor, Anna Tsay, a professional violinist with a master’s degree in music from the University of Southern California, led the children as they screeched out a version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Three women who had picked up their daughters from elementary school and taken them to the evening violin class at the Los Angeles Music and Art School in Boyle Heights, sat on the sidelines smiling proudly.

“The public school she goes to doesn’t have a music program,” said Julia Bejar, whose daughter, Sophia, 6, played with the class. “It’s important that she learns it, and she really seems to like it. It is a good way to occupy her time.”

The private, nonprofit school has served the area for decades. Established in 1945, the center offers classes in drama, music -- including piano, guitar, drums and flute -- and dance -- ballet, tap, modern and flamenco.

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More than 950 students, mostly children but also teenagers and adults, are enrolled in the classes, which are held after school and on Saturdays.

The school, which relies primarily on private donations, received $15,000 last year from the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, which raises money for nonprofits in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

The program teaches discipline and teamwork, and allows children to explore their creativity, said executive director Isela Sotelo. Although the center is a fixture in the community, funding has been especially tight in recent years, she said.

“We really have to work harder to get money for the arts, even in good times,” Sotelo said. “Sometimes the arts aren’t considered a priority, because so many other issues are perceived to be more pressing.”

Art is the livelihood of many youngsters, said Genaro Diaz Caamal, 22, who took ballet and flute courses at the center when he was a teenager. He now attends Cal State Northridge, where he studies music.

Caamal grew up about half a mile from the arts school, and said he is grateful he discovered it because it would have been nearly impossible to find a professional music school nearby.

“Around here, it is kind of tough. I grew up here. For me personally, I couldn’t tell you who I lived next to or who my neighbors are. Sometimes, you’re afraid to go outside,” he said. Instead of hanging around, Caamal focused on music, and it shaped his life, he said.

“The kids need a place to go after school, a place to nurture their talents,” he said. “Even if they’re not the best, being an artist provides, not just the sense of creativity, it makes you part of a larger activity and a group.”

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There are more than 40 paid professional instructors at the school, including Tsay, 26.

“It brings the community together,” Tsay said. “It’s a chance for them to be creative and independent-thinking.”

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HOW TO GIVE

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The annual Holiday Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $800,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar.

Checks or money orders should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986.

Do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the website: latimes.com/holiday campaign. All donations are tax deductible. For more information, call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.


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