The three Rs — Reading, (W)riting and (A)rithmetic — are the staples of education. The aptitude of a child is based on how well he or she does in these subjects.
Greatly overlooked, especially now, are the arts — for it’s in this field of education where students who may not necessarily excel in the core courses can find expression, blossom and be directed to the future.
But it has become harder for schools to offer art classes to all students and schools have to search out art programs on their own.
Here are some local arts programs in and out of schools in the local area.
Westminster Elementary School, at 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, for instance, funded its art program through a proposal to the Los Angeles Unified School District. The program provides an extra teacher during the year — one for visual arts, one for drama and one for dance — each teaching for one third of the year.
Also part of the program is $20,000 that goes towards contracting with outside vendors to get additional art classes appropriate for the grade levels that are not covered by the main program.
“Because one teacher does not have time to get to everybody, it would be nice to have an arts teacher available for all the students,” says Westminster assistant principal Shelley Berkowitz. “One teacher twice a week is what it ends up being. That can’t even cover half the students.”
There’s a double jeopardy here — a lack of art education and a lack of after-school activities to keep the youths involved with worthwhile projects and out of trouble.
BOYS & GIRLS CLUB OF VENICE
The Boys & Girls Club of Venice has a long history of helping youths, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive and caring members of the community.
The goal of Eduardo “Lalo” Marquez, the club art director, is to get the children interested in art and off the streets.
“Art is a good way for the kids to vent,” he says. “A lot of them think, because they don’t know how to draw, they don’t know about art. That’s why they lose interest — because they think that drawing means you have to be a picture-perfect artist.
“I introduce them to different types of art — like expressionism. I teach them how to put their thoughts on paper — however it comes out, it comes out.”
Jun Cha, now 17, started with the club ten years ago. “Jun was in his own world,” says Lalo. “It was hard to know him. He only let certain people in. He had certain issues at home because he was totally against what his parents told him to do. He was rebelling under the peer pressure of his friends.
“Now he is a mature young man headed to a successful life. His relationship with his parents has grown and he has let go.”
“Lalo has helped me out since an early age in terms of keeping me focused — keeping me on track with what I want to do, which is art,” says Jun. “It all happened right here.
“I didn’t know what I was doing until I kept practicing and practicing. I feel good right now because I did that. Art has helped me keep focused. It helps me build up my drive in terms of going to college and having a career.”
Instead of “all the other stuff that could have happened, especially in high school years — like I have a lot of friends who are messing up, landing in jail — I’m out here doing artwork, getting a chance to build a career, making a name for myself and going to college,” Jun says
Jun wants to go to an arts college to major in video game design.
“I’m going to help him every way I can to make sure he gets a scholarship,” says Lalo. “Any college would be blessed to have this kid because of his talent and his motivation towards what he wants to do.”
Lalo helps out in other ways, too.
“By being at the club I meet a lot of kids,” Lalo says. “It has allowed them to open up and for me to enter their lives to help out with problems. I can be someone they can come to. I can guide them to make the right choice.
“I don’t sugar-coat anything. I try not to tell them what to do but tell them what the consequences will be.”
To find out more about the Boys & Girls Club of Venice, go to www.bgcv.org
INSIDE OUT COMMUNITY ARTS
Inside Out Community Arts, through visual and performing arts, gives youngsters from all backgrounds the tools, confidence and inspiration to make a positive difference in their communities and the world — from the inside out.
On the wall of Inside Out co-directors Camille Ameen and Jonathan Zeichner’s office is a framed photograph taken January 25th in Washington, D.C. at an event honoring Inside Out with the “Coming Up Taller” award, bestowed by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Pictured in the photo are Camille; Dana Gioia, director of the National Endowment for the Arts; First Lady Laura Bush; and Brandon Tillis.
Brandon, now 16, represented the youths of Inside Out in Washington. It was a long way from his life as it was when, at the age of 12, he first started the program.
“I wasn’t interested in art before I came to Inside Out,” says Brandon. “I never knew how much fun you can have in art and performing for people. I’ve changed a lot.
“I think that if I was not involved in Inside Out I would probably be going down the wrong road at this moment. I probably would have dropped out of school and don’t know what I would be doing with my life. I’d probably be in a gang now instead of concentrating on my school and life.”
When Brandon started the program he remembers thinking that it was boring.
“What I observed the first few times,” says Jonathan, “is that he was somewhat mistrustful. What is this about? Is this a safe place for me? Soon after, he realized it was.”
But, “as time passed,” Brandon says, “I started getting more interested in the acting and I liked being on stage and playing parts that are really serious that can reach out to the audience to make them feel like, ‘Oh, wow, I can understand what he’s really saying.’
“Being a young kid, you can’t really change your attitude from how you are to being a really serious character. It’s hard. It’s like you dig down deep inside in yourself and find that character.
“I never knew what life could be like but doing these plays made me figure out how much more stuff there is to life than what I had known.”
Right now Brandon is involved in football at school. After graduation he wants to major in theater at college and then fulfill a dream that he has had since he was two years old. He wants to be a firefighter.
“Later on in life I would like to pursue acting if I have a chance,” he adds.
Brandon’s aunt, who is now his legal guardian, is happy that he’s at Inside Out.
“She loves the fact that I have found a place that I can go if I need to talk about anything,” Brandon says. “She knows that I’ll open up to Jonathan if I have to.”
Inside Out is for middle-school children, a stage when kids need to receive direction to follow the right path.
“This is a critical moment in a kid’s life, when they are about to make decisions that will impact everybody — themselves, their communities, their families,” says Jonathan. “When you look at the studies, you see they show time after time that kids who are exposed to the arts, whether it’s during the school day or after the school day, do better in every single other subject and do better in terms of socialization and communication skills.”
Jonathan and Camille discovered that they couldn’t get rid of the youngsters who had graduated and gone on to high school. “They wouldn’t go away,” says Jonathan. “They said, ‘It can’t be over. You need to have a high school program.'”
Now, Inside Out has a Youth Alumni Mentor program and Brandon is a mentor in the program.
“I felt strongly that Brandon would be a good mentor because he has natural leadership ability and kids respond to him and respect him and he does it in a gentle way,” says Jonathan. “He has a way of leading that is not about imposing his will but leading by example.
“Also, I felt — and this is true of many of the mentors — that he needed more. What he needed hadn’t yet been fully satisfied.
“We’re proud of all the kids at Inside Out because it’s hard work to do this program. For a lot of the kids the self-discipline required is not what they expect. They learn after a while that it’s hard work but there’s a lot of fun and also a lot to be accomplished.
“The program uses the arts but it’s not primarily interested in turning kids into artists. It’s really about life skills and it’s about realizing that you’re an artist because you’re affecting the people around you and you’re also affecting yourself.
“Inside Out uses the arts to work on conflict resolution, address diversity and community building and to help the kids become the assets to the community that they are.
“So, learning how to talk on stage, learning how to read and express yourself, how to articulate your concerns about life will play out if you’re a fireman, an actor or the President of the United States.”
For more about the Inside Out Community Arts, www.insideout ca.org
VENICE ARTS: IN NEIGHBORHOODS
Venice Arts: In Neighborhoods brings artists together with low-income youths whose access to the arts has been limited, to nurture their creativity, imagination and talent that help build positive relationships and improve their academic performance and job readiness skills.
Two such participants are sisters Francesca Thomas, 15, and Alex, 14, who have been with the program for two years. It has made a big difference in their lives in a short time.
Francesca was shy at first and tended to have a closed mind. Now she is more creative and explores various ways of working with a camera.
“In the past I wasn’t exposed to a lot of things,” she says.
Photography has brought out her personality. She has already found her niche — darkroom printing.
Venice Arts lead artist Joanne Kim has worked closely with Francesca.
“She was really independent about coming in and printing on her own as much as she could,” says Joanne. “I taught her how to process her own film and she became proficient at that.
“Then she started helping me in the gallery and supporting the photography programs in addition to film processing and printing.”
A yearly position in the Youth Art Mentor program opened up and Francesca was chosen to fill it. The mentor is paid for working eight to ten hours a week.
“She has been really amazing and very responsible,” says Joanne.
Francesca, along with Alex, were two of three low-income students given scholarships to attend the International Visual Arts Program in Idyllwild this summer.
“I think these girls are more energetic and passionate about doing this creative kind of work with photography than most kids I’ve seen,” says Venice Arts creative director Jim Hubbard. “They stand out in terms of their interest level, the amount of time they want to put into this and their passion for it.”
To find out more about Venice Arts, venice-arts.org
These nonprofit organizations are able to exist for children because many people who are more fortunate have contributed to them. The need for financial and material resources is never-ending.
Hubbard of Venice Arts sees it this way:
“What I’m struck by is the amount of money that is being pumped into new housing and rehab housing in this neighborhood — we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I’ve been thinking about the fact that we’ve taken a couple of trips to Africa and seen how the people live there.
“I think it would really be neat if the neighborhood would adopt the idea of helping people that are here who have so little and who need help from time to time with resources.
“While people may not want to help those in Africa, right here in this very rich neighborhood it wouldn’t take much on everyone’s part to chip into a pot to help other people who need help in our community.”