Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013

Igniting Imaginations Today Ensuring Arts Vitality Tomorrow

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Levitt Pavilion Greater Los Angeles & Pasadena

Levitt Pavilions envisions a LA 2050 in which the community as a whole—parents, children, young adults, seniors—comes together in welcoming outdoor settings to experience the joy of arts experiences open to all. We believe that access to high quality arts experiences shouldn’t be reserved for those who can afford to buy tickets—but should be made available to everyone. We have already made tremendous strides to achieve our vision—each summer over 100,000 Angelenos of all ages and backgrounds enjoy 100+ free concerts at Levitt Los Angeles in MacArthur Park (www.levittla.org) and Levitt Pasadena in Memorial Park (www.levittpavilionpasadena.org), adding vitality to public spaces that were once neglected and nurturing an appreciation for the arts in this great city we call home.

However, in the wake of drastic funding cuts to arts education in Los Angeles-area public schools, Levitt believes we could – and must – do more. Tens of thousands of youth are missing out on opportunities to engage more deeply with the arts—compromising an invaluable part of their overall growth as individuals and members of society. Levitt Pavilions proposes to help fill this void by greatly enhancing Levitt L.A. and Levitt Pasadena’s popular free children’s series. Through the introduction of a hands-on arts learning experience before each children’s show, consisting of free, interactive workshops taught by highly skilled teaching artists in a welcoming and supportive environment, children will gain a deeper appreciation of that day’s performance inspiring their overall interest in the arts.

Both Levitt L.A. and Levitt Pasadena have had amazing success with the children’s series presented as part of the overall Levitt concert seasons, reaching 20,000 children every summer. The beauty of Levitt’s children’s series is that it encourages active participation. Because each Levitt performance venue is located in a welcoming, outdoor setting featuring a grassy lawn, children run freely, dance and express themselves. Every Levitt concert is a reason to celebrate community and to appreciate the rich culture of music that thrives within greater Los Angeles. Our mission of “community through music” is most often on display at Levitt L.A. and Levitt Pasadena’s children’s concerts. It’s heartwarming to witness the sheer joy of children as they run up to the stage to be closer to Levitt artists.

The My LA 2050 grant will give Levitt Pavilions the opportunity to extend and deepen children’s Levitt experiences through weekly pre-concert workshops from late June through August 2013—on Wednesday nights in Pasadena and Sunday afternoons in MacArthur Park. These hour-long workshops will offer a fun and hands-on way for children to learn about music and opportunities for self-expression. Teaching artists will present interactive programs that are in sync with the program being presented on the stage that day. We envision that the 20 children’s concerts (10 concerts at each venue) will represent moments in a child’s life when they begin to foster a sense of appreciation for music and experience the joy of creating and experiencing music in a communal setting. Through making an instrument, trying out cultural dances, creating murals, learning a new song and singing along with others, this supplemental interactive experience will add a rich new dimension to children’s lives. Based upon the attendance at the children’s programs in previous years, we anticipate that approximately 20,000 Los Angeles children will benefit from this program in 2013.

Our project best fits in the Arts and Cultural Vitality indicator, yet we also heavily impact the area of Social Connectedness and even Environmental Quality. Each Levitt venue is located in a city park, enlivening the communities the Levitt program serves by transforming neglected outdoor spaces into cherished destinations. We recognize that live music has always been a social connector, and that free, live music in welcoming, outdoor settings possesses the unique power to break social and economic barriers. By providing hands-on arts experiences for children and their families, Levitt will foster an appreciation for the arts and demonstrate the value of the arts as an integral component of vibrant cities. These experiences will inspire future generations to ensure the arts remain a vital part of Los Angeles.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Levitt Pavilions has developed an innovative program model, leveraging public/private partnerships in cities across the country to transform neglected public spaces into welcoming destinations through the power of free, live music. While all performances are free, all Levitt artists are paid a competitive fee to perform, ensuring excellence. Levitt venues serve as catalysts for change in a community by reclaiming green spaces, activating underused public spaces, & breaking social & economic barriers that often preclude access to the arts.

There are now six state-of-the-art Levitt pavilions in places as diverse as Los Angeles & Pasadena; Memphis, Tenn.; Arlington, Texas; Westport, Conn.; & Bethlehem, Pa. Each Levitt Pavilion is a community destination. Levitt’s open lawn settings encourage people to mingle, strengthening social connections.

But it wasn’t always this way. Consider what Levitt locations used to be: the nation’s largest brownfield; a problematic landfill; crime-ridden & abandoned parks; & a dormant downtown with little economic activity.

Today, the Levitt network serves more than half a million people each year through 300+ free concerts nationwide. Pavilions are currently in development in Denver, Sioux Falls & Houston, & we are in conversations with nearly a dozen other cities across the country.

The L.A. region is home to two Levitt venues. Levitt Pasadena opened in 2003, reviving an abandoned, WPA-era band shell in the once troubled Memorial Park. The national Levitt organization approached city officials with the idea to renovate the pavilion & create an annual series of free performances featuring acclaimed, emerging talent to seasoned, award-winning artists, using the arts as a vehicle to transform the park. Ten years later, Levitt Pasadena is now a treasured community asset & the park is an active & thriving magnet for families.

In 2007, Levitt L.A. opened in MacArthur Park, transforming this once crime-ridden park into a welcoming destination. The band shell’s renovation served as the catalyst for the overall park’s renewal. Levitt L.A. is the only organization that provides consistent free performing arts programming each year in the Westlake District, one of L.A.’s most densely populated & underserved communities. With 40 percent of the Westlake community living at or below the poverty level, Levitt L.A.’s children’s series gives thousands of underprivileged youth access to exceptional arts programming that would otherwise be cost prohibitive to attend.

Both Levitt venues in Southern California have a proven track record of success, & every year audiences increase. In 2012, both Levitt L.A. & Levitt Pasadena were voted “Best Free Summer Concert Series” by LA Weekly, & Levitt Pasadena was voted “Best Live Music Venue” by Pasadena Weekly. The pavilions are both centrally located & accessible by car, bus, Metro & are in walking distance of neighborhoods.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We will collaborate with the professional staff of Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles & Levitt Pavilion Pasadena (who program both venues), accomplished individuals with a proven track record of success in the presenting field & with a depth of experience in providing quality arts programming to the community.

Renee Bodie, Executive Director, Eddie Cota, Artistic Director, Daniel Rizik-Baer, Marketing, & Outreach Coordinator, & Betty Avila, Community Relations Manager.

We will work with local teaching artists, selected with the assistance of the Education Department at the Music Center of LA County, to identify skilled educators with a specialty in teaching large groups of children through interactive activities.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We will evaluate the success of the children’s series and pre-concert arts workshops in the following key ways. First, we will measure the number of participants attending each of the 20 children’s concerts and the number of children attending the pre-concert workshops. Based upon past seasons of children’s programming, we anticipate that over the course of the summer, this program will serve over 20,000 children and an additional 10,000 adults.

Next, following each children’s workshop, Levitt professional staff and teaching artists will debrief and determine how to enhance participation, refine logistics and evaluate responses to specific outreach efforts.

Finally, to measure success in participation, we will collect qualitative data from a random sample of the participants. The pavilions routinely collect audience surveys in both English and Spanish and this summer’s surveys will include questions about the new interactive programming for children and families in order to receive immediate reactions to the project and measure its success. The surveys will be tallied and the results will be incorporated into a final report to be shared with the funder.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

We believe the arts are essential to creative thinking and participation in the arts plays an important role in the development of our children. Thought leaders in education and government officials agree.

Today’s educators, politicians and business leaders spend a great deal of time and resources discussing the pressing need for a trained future workforce in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in order for the country to remain competitive in tomorrow’s economy. However, many astute leaders know that a letter is missing in this equation, the letter A (Art and Design), to spell STEAM. The arts are the lynchpin to success in building the workforce of 2050 simply because through the arts, students learn creative problem solving, effective communication, innovative thinking and the ability to navigate complex situations. They become better citizens and professionals across all fields and industries, as well as more thoughtful contributors to society, because they are able to more effectively express themselves and think creatively. As the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Rocco Landesman said at the Arts Education Partnership National Forum in April 2010, “The arts provide us with new ways of thinking, new ways to draw connections…and they help maintain our competitive edge by engendering innovation and creativity.” United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan also added, “The arts can no longer be treated as a frill… arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global economy.”

In the midst of arts funding cuts in public schools, the Levitt program offers a meaningful solution. All Levitt programming is free of charge and family friendly. We create value across the board because our Los Angeles and Pasadena venues are accessible, conveniently located near public transit, and available to all who wish to participate. By offering first-hand involvement in the arts, Levitt’s program will help build the Los Angeles leaders of tomorrow by providing rich arts learning experiences, and in turn helping to build a better Los Angeles for the next generation.

While the Levitt program is nationwide, two of our six pavilions are located in Los Angeles County – Pasadena (Memorial Park) and Los Angeles (MacArthur Park). A total of 100+ concerts are presented from mid-June to the end of August each year in the greater Los Angeles area – free of charge. The wildly popular children’s programs reach tens of thousands each season, and many families attend these concerts on a regular and often weekly basis. By adding an educational and interactive component to the children’s programming, we will have the ability to engage more youth in Levitt’s work and have them leave the concerts with not only a memory of the interactive activities and concert but also possess an increased appreciation for the arts.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

For us, success in 2050 would be a Los Angeles with adults (the children of today) and their children participating in, attending, and creating art as an integral part of their everyday lives. Our hope is that through our efforts today, the next generation will appreciate the value of public spaces activated through shared arts experiences. The seeds planted today will be seen in future investments in the arts and the arts will be accessible to all, creating a more cohesive society. In 2050, all Angelenos will have ample opportunities to participate in high quality performing arts experiences. The citizens of Greater Los Angeles will be inspired by and appreciate how music and arts participation makes us all better people; more tolerant, innovative and engaged. This appreciation and understanding will translate into the arts playing a prominent role in our city’s vitality.