When schools can’t provide arts education, nonprofit groups step in

Students play guitars at Carlos Santana Arts Academy in North Hills.

Students play guitars at Carlos Santana Arts Academy in North Hills.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles school district and Hollywood should work together to foster students' interest -- and help them find jobs -- in the city's entertainment industry, according to Bill Humphrey, general manager of the company that runs Sunset Bronson Studios.

That's why the company became among the first to partner with L.A. Unified by "adopting" Le Conte Middle School. It has donated and installed lighting and curtains for the school's theater and is planning a mentoring program to introduce students to its engineers and other employees who support the creative industry.

"I think it's good for kids to learn that there are good, solid jobs in the creative side and the support side, which is really core to L.A.," Humphrey said. "And if we can get that across to kids and get them the exposure to say, 'Hey, wow that's in our community, I think I should learn that trade,' that in itself will be a great accomplishment."

In the same city celebrated as the epicenter for film and music — where a gilded entertainment industry churns and draws talent from around the world — a vast majority of schools don't have adequate arts programs.

A Los Angeles Times analysis used data from L.A. Unified to assign letter grades to schools' arts programs. It shows that only 35 out of more than 700 schools would get an "A." Those schools tapped outside businesses, foundations and parent groups to bolster arts programs that were suffering after years of statewide budget cuts.

More than 130 schools said they provided additional arts instruction with help from about 50 outside groups, including Beyond the Bell and Inner-City Arts. Others included the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty Museum.

Community arts partnerNumber of school affiliations
Beyond the Bell24
Inner-City Arts18
LA Opera8
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)7
Music Center7
Harmony Project6
24th Street Theatre Company5
LA's Best5
Angels Gate Cultural Center4
CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP)4

On average, the schools that received outside assistance had fewer low-income students. Elementary schools that supplemented arts education at their campuses with outside resources had an average poverty rate of 60%, well below the district average. On the other end, at campuses that relied solely on district funding for the arts, 82% of students were low-income.

L.A. Unified arts director Rory Pullens said the district is taking steps to make sure that help is also being directed to campuses that don't have connections to outside donors. This year, the district sought proposals for targeted programs from 27 nonprofits to provide additional arts instruction.

They include an arts program with a mural project at the Judy Baca Arts Academy in Watts, mobile digital media storytelling workshops at some middle schools and an after-school music program for 50 students at 112th Street Elementary School.

Sandra Ruppert, who directs the nonprofit Arts Education Partnership, said outside partnerships are important but districts should be careful to make sure they are augmenting existing arts programs.

"You would expect that there would be more support in parts of California because you have the technology industry and you have the entertainment industry," Ruppert said. "But the fact remains that, even with these external supports, it shouldn't let schools off the hook for what their responsibility is — to provide children a complete education."

Twitter: @zahiratorres

Twitter: @ryanvmenezes


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