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Los Angeles Community Group Fills a Gap in Performing Arts Education

Young students work on musical theater

Young students work on musical theater

Arts programs have been slashed around the United States because of tight school budgets. In Los Angeles, community organizations including the Hollywood Arts Council have stepped in to help. One such effort runs an after-school program for inner city kids in the heart of Hollywood.

Professional dancers are helping a group of 12-year-olds work on their jazz and hip hop moves.

A performer/teacher works with younger students on musical theater.

The Vine Street elementary school is located in the shadow of Hollywood movie studios. It’s an immigrant neighborhood, says Shauna McClure, executive director of the Hollywood Arts Council, a non-profit community group.

"They represent a large demographic - Latino population, Armenian, Asian - that all come from very rich cultural legacies. And so we’re trying to blend the best of Hollywood and the best of their cultures and give them a little taste of what it’s like to participate in the arts," McClure said.

This school is classified as Title 1 under U.S. government guidelines, meaning it has a large number of students from families at or below the poverty line. The arts program, called Project SOAR, offers classes in ceramics, painting, drama and performance in this and seven other local schools.

The kids are responsive, says dance teacher Angelina Prendergast.

"They all seem to really love it. Especially after sitting in desks all day, it’s really great to see them move. And some people, you can tell they have what it takes to be a dancer, so I’m hoping that they’ll continue training," she said.

Barbara Rosenblatt, who teaches nine-year-olds, says the arts are important to a child’s development, and especially in this movie industry town.

"For our students to be exposed to the different possibilities of work here in Hollywood, and just to know that there is another world out there," Rosenblatt said.

Only half of the students in Los Angeles public schools will graduate from high school. Others will drop out. Nyla Arslanian is president of the Hollywood Arts Council. She says arts education could motivate them to finish.

"When they are third, fourth grade, they [say], oh, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a fireman. Their world is filled with possibility. As they go through the system, that is diminished little by little by little. And we believe that with the arts, it sets the horizon. There are things that they can see outside of themselves, and within themselves," Arslanian said.

Theater teacher Melissa Berman says these classes teach important lessons.

"Community, teamwork, the ability to listen, the ability to use all of your natural gifts, whatever they are, through movement, speech, through ideas, to come together with their creativity, with their imagination, and just rock it," Berman said.

The sponsors of the project hope that funding for the arts will be restored to Hollywood's schools. In the meantime, they're trying to fill the gap.