Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013
The CITYstage Arts Discovery Project
Imagine the anticipation: a curtain rises on a magnificent stage; the crowd hushes as orchestral horns and violins burst forth; dancers leap and seem to defy gravity; something magical has occurred. It’s happening right here in your own community, but you’ll never experience it. You’re just a kid, you could never afford a ticket, and no one could take you there. In fact, this world of captivating performance and art isn’t part of your world at all. But it could be. Thousands of LA kids ages 12-18 have never been to a professional performing arts production in dance, music or theatre. Many have never even taken a performing arts class. In fact, less than 10% of LAUSD middle school students receive instruction in a comprehensive arts program. CITYstage would like to change that. Founded in direct response to the diminishing performing arts programs in LA, CITYstage is a non-profit dedicated to inspiring and preparing inner city youth to become the future performers and arts leaders in the Los Angeles community. Currently, CITYstage provides tuition-free summer and afterschool programs in the performing arts for underserved middle and high school students of LAUSD. But this is not enough. Answering the Goldhirsch Foundation’s call to provide more opportunities for participation in and support of cultural and artistic activities, CITYstage proposes an Arts Discovery Project for youth. The goal of this program is to recruit, train and retain the next generation of creative artists. How would the Arts Discovery Project do this? To start, youth would take part in “field trips” to professional stage events, such as Alvin Ailey at the Music Center, Lion King at the Pantages, or the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s Saturday. Imagine going to the Pantages Theatre with 49 of your classmates to see the Lion King. Before leaving for the show, you learn about the costumes and puppetry that bring the animals to life, explore the themes of the story, and learn the lyrics to “Hakuna Matata” which you discover means, “No worries.” With much excitement, you are finally off to see the show! You arrive at the most beautiful theatre you have ever seen – the historic Pantages – where 50 ft. high dancers and giraffe puppets ascend the aisles amid thundering African beats. You’ve never experienced anything like it. Something magical is happening! After the performance, you meet the cast, see the puppets up close and get to ask all your burning questions. After school on Monday, the Arts Discovery staff brings in a puppet from the show and introduces you to African drumming and dance classes that you weren’t even aware were available in your very own neighborhood. In an effort to increase access for youth participation in “formal” arts in Los Angeles, the CITYstage Arts Discovery Project would provide tickets and transportation for 50 LAUSD youth to attend 9 events (3 Theatre, 3 Dance, 3 Music) for a total reach of 450 youth per year. The project would foster awareness and appreciation of LA’s rich cultural offerings, making professional performing art accessible for low-income youth. According to a recent study by the Arts Education Partnership, even a small exposure can effectively result in long-term participation in the performing arts. In addition to arts “field trips,” the Arts Discovery Project would host free weekly community events, where art would be taught, learned, appreciated and shared. Fridays, from 6-8 p.m., LA residents would present art from their neighborhood and culture in an informal setting at Art Share LA. For example, dancers from Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles might perform and instruct the audience in Mexico’s traditional dances. It’s Friday night. Female dancers appear in colorfully embroidered skirts that seem to spin and dance on their own. Live mariachi guitars and trumpets resound with joyful, energetic melodies. Men in traditional Mexican costume stomp out powerful, percussive dance steps that interweave with the music. Your pride as an Angeleno grows as you begin to realize the diverse cultural heritage of LA. The eyes of parents in the audience light up as the value of a traditional art is passed down to a new generation. With the Arts Discovery Project’s collaborative approach, we can impact the indicators identified by the Goldhirsch Foundation. Fieldtrips for 450 students to attend professional arts performances will increase youth access to and participation in the arts, as well as fostering support and building a youth audience for formal art in the concert setting. Additionally, the project’s community events will provide weekly opportunities for youth arts enrichment within their own neighborhood. Introducing our youth to a mix of formal and informal, institutional and community arts affords our students many points of entry in our effort to recruit, retain and train the next generation of artists and leaders in the LA arts scene.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Since our inception in 2010, CITYstage has served over 100 of LA’s at-risk middle and high school youth with tuition-free performing arts instruction in the disciplines of dance, music and theatre. Our first pilot program at Manual Arts High School provided 25 students with free dance instruction and resulted in all program graduates going on to attend 4-year universities, as well as continuing to pursue the arts.
In 2012, we expanded our pilot program to include instruction in all three performing arts disciplines for 35 students at Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School. CITYstage also ensured high-quality instruction by employing working professionals in the LA performing arts community. During an Arts Discovery pilot, 25 students were taken to a variety of events including youth stand-up comedy at The Improv, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Ahmanson Theatre and music and dance performances at the Colburn School.
Students who visited the Colburn School live in the shadow of Downtown LA, yet had never visited the cultural center of their own city – less than 3 miles from home. They marveled at the sight of LA’s skyline; the discipline and training required to develop the ballet dancer physique and enjoyed the opportunity to apply their newfound knowledge of classical ballet positions in their discussion of the performance.
In late 2012, CITYstage formed a partnership with All About Kids to serve 50 additional children who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. With this partnership, mental health support was made a new priority for CITYstage.
In a conscious effort to provide our youth with leadership opportunities, we have added a former graduate of the Manual Arts High CITYstage pilot program to our Board of Directors as the first Student Director. We believe that including students on our board empowers them to become the next generation of leaders and advocates of LA culture and art. The Student Director role also gives a powerful voice to our most important stakeholders – our students. We can only ensure the viability of our programs and build a lasting foundation for the arts if we actively listen to and address the needs of the communities we serve.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
CITYstage will create partnerships across the education, arts, business and non-profit sectors. Art Share LA will provide theatre and rehearsal space for Arts Discovery events. To recruit youth participants, CITYstage will work with LAUSD middle and high school principals and faculty at the following schools: Audubon, Carver, Clinton, John Muir, Crenshaw, Dr. Maya Angelou, Manual Arts, Jefferson, Foshay Learning Center. We intend to partner with venues including: Music Center, The Pantages, Disney Concert Hall, Comedy Sportz, and Center Theatre Group. Corporate partners Goldstar Events, LA Weekly and ADVOC8 will be key to successful outreach. Collaborations with non-profits KKJZ, KCRW, UCLA GSE&IS, will provide exposure and project support.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
A balanced evaluation of the CITYstage Arts Discovery Project would include meeting measurable objectives set by the CITYstage Board of Directors, as well as an external study and analysis by an accredited academic research organization to inform and improve learning opportunities and model change in education research, policy and practice.
Measurable objectives include:
-450 inner-city youth exposed to the professional LA arts scene through Arts Discovery field trips (50 youth per fieldtrip x 9 events = 450 students/year)
-1,000 local residents and youth participating in performing arts in Arts Discovery community events (up to 50 weekly participants x 20 weeks of programming = 1,000 participants/year)
-CITYstage partnerships with at least 3 professional performing arts venues
-Partnerships with at least 4 LAUSD schools to continue Arts Discovery beyond year one
In addition, CITYstage would perform an internal audit and survey of participants to evaluate learning and enrichment experience, with feedback and suggestions to improve future programming.
A third party evaluation is necessary to fully assess the project and identify opportunities for improvement. CITYstage would seek a partnership with the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies Department of Education to conduct research and analysis of the project’s impact on students, families and schools. The UCLA GSE&IS Department of Education is an international leader in the study and practice of K-16 urban education, student testing and assessment, teacher and continuing education and development - particularly in urban, multi-ethnic environments, and issues of access, equity, and quality.
Data could be collected on whether local youth continue participating in the arts beyond the Arts Discovery field trip experience, and what impact the project has on academic performance, student retention rates and the pursuit of continued education. Alternately, participants might be interviewed about perceptions of community, race relations and future levels of interest in participating in the arts.
At the end of each year, CITYstage would formally review the project’s internal audit survey results alongside the findings and recommendations of UCLA GSE&IS. This combined evaluation would inform future plans for Arts Discovery to provide opportunities for community arts enrichment in LA. In addition to significantly enhancing the development of inner-city youth and the under-served communities that they live in, and contributing to the body of academic work that strengthens support for arts-related policy, our hope is that the Arts Discovery Project would become a model for successful arts enrichment programs in other metropolitan areas.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
A diversity of LA’s stakeholders stand to benefit from the CITYstage Arts Discovery Project including inner-city youth, LAUSD schools, local artists, professional artists and venues, arts non-profits and the local community. Below outlines the specific benefits each group would acquire along with a list of advantages gained from their participation.
Inner-city youth would gain: opportunities to participate in and contribute to the cultural landscape of LA; chances to explore and develop their creative mind; access to after-school arts programs that provide safe and productive environments; pathways and possibilities for success in the future including higher education and careers in the arts and other creative industries.
LAUSD middle and high schools would benefit from: outside resources to address the lack of comprehensive arts programming in public schools; improved academic achievement, student retention and graduation rates; solid research to build the case for lasting policy and curriculum change in support of the arts in schools.
Local artists would gain: a venue for sharing their talent and art; a supportive space for experimentation, growth and development of their craft; free event marketing resources for greater visibility of up-and-coming artists; financial support for their participation.
Professional artists and arts venues would benefit in the following ways: growth of a new generation of young audience members to sustain future support; access to previously untapped markets (inner-city youth and the under-served communities of LA); direct financial support to metropolitan arts/cultural venues with an additional 450 attendees per year; opportunities to make the “formal” concert arts more accessible to our youth in the form of discount group tickets, “talkbacks” with youth after performances, “sneak-peeks” into rehearsals, guest lectures, and artist workshops.
Arts non-profits would gain: opportunities to collaborate with other non-profit arts providers that will strengthen youth arts programs across the county; a model for collaboration between local arts programs.
The LA community, as a whole, will benefit from: weekly opportunities to participate in free classes and performances that celebrate the diversity of LA; a stronger business climate due to the growth of creative industries; a better-informed, connected and engaged citizenry; the development of a more vibrant and inclusive arts community; a public mandate for greater arts support in schools and the community.
In order to change the future of Los Angeles and further enrich the arts and cultural vitality of the city, projects like CITYstage Arts Discovery need to engage all members of our community-regardless of race, income or geography. It is through this inclusive approach that we will see continued growth into 2050 and beyond, ensuring Los Angeles as a model and leader in sustained arts and cultural vitality.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
It’s 2050. You are 49 years old and have been teaching dance in the LAUSD for the past 26 years. You just finished teaching your 7th grade students the history of Alvin Ailey, an African American choreographer and activist who formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre over 90 years earlier. You are reminded of 6th grade when you took your fist CITYstage Arts Discovery “field trip” to see the Alvin Ailey company at the Music Center. The agility and grace of the dancers inspired you to try a dance class in your community. For the next 7 years, you attended classes at CITYstage and Lula Washington Dance Theatre and experienced breathtaking performances through the annual Arts Discovery “field trips.” You realize now that the introduction and continued exposure to the arts as a child helped you grow into the passionate, creative and dedicated teacher you are today.
We believe that if we introduce resources like the CITYstage Arts Discovery Project in 2013, we can help develop and support the future artists and leaders of 2050. The ability to ignite creativity and passion in our youth, and to empower our citizens, organizations and policymakers is the key to sustaining a vibrant arts and cultural scene in our region.
How would this specifically impact the artistic and cultural vitality of LA in 2050? If we start now, over the next 37 years CITYstage can provide a minimum of 16,576 of LA’s most at-risk teens opportunities to participate and contribute to LA’s vibrant arts landscape. Using the inspiration, training and support provided by the Arts Discovery Project, we believe that a significant number of our youth will discover pathways out of poverty through careers as artists or in arts-related fields such as education, arts-business or advocacy.
With success and possibilities born from the arts, advocates will not leave their fate to chance, but will demand common-sense legislative support such as: creating comprehensive arts programs for LAUSD middle and high school students; earmarking funds for increased per-capita arts spending; tax breaks to encourage film production in LA, and the like. The revitalization of the business of the arts is crucial to expanding the LA arts scene and realization of the city’s full potential as both an economic and a creative powerhouse.
We believe in the power of inner-city youth to shape the future of arts in Los Angeles. With this in mind, we will work toward a Los Angeles 2050 in which we nurture home grown artists and arts-leaders to help maintain LA’s dominance as the leading US arts center for generations to come. Furthermore, securing a future in which a concentration of these artists and leaders are from the underserved communities of LA ensures that all Angelenos have access to the arts, regardless of race, income or geography.