warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

"Arts Matter": L.A. Unified Seeks Money To Add A Stroke Of Art In Every Class

Brianna Sacks |
October 8, 2012 | 11:38 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy and school board member Nury Martinez say they hope to codify some of the goals of the new Arts Matter campaign. (Brianna Sacks/Neon Tommy)
L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy and school board member Nury Martinez say they hope to codify some of the goals of the new Arts Matter campaign. (Brianna Sacks/Neon Tommy)
L.A. Unified School District and L.A. Fund launched "Arts Matter" Monday, a citywide public art exhibition and fundraising campaign to help integrate arts education into every course in L.A. public schools.

Arts Matter is the first project of its kind in Los Angeles and is the widest reaching public art project in the city's history. East Los Angeles' Esteban E. Torres High School, a blueprint for what can happen when arts is at the core of education, hosted Monday's launch event.

The project features original pieces of art by famous artists on city buses, billboards, and bus stations, totaling $4 million in value and will include almost one billion impressions.

Photographer Barbara Kruger's art covers the dozen buses used in the campaign.

"A well developed arts education is not only part of a well rounded education, but arts education can be the game changer for many students," said Megan Chernin, the L.A. Fund's chairwoman.

The arts integration curriculum aims to lower L.A.'s high school dropout rate, increase graduation rates, and close the achievement gap for lower-income students across the Los Angeles area. Supporters hope that an art-heavy curriculum will inspire students in the long run and make them excited to come to school.

The L.A. Fund worked for nine months to launch the Arts Matter campaign to help the second largest school district in the nation, and where nearly 80 percent of the student population lives in poverty.

The campaign will fund grants for L.A. Unified schools to work with Los Angeles cultural institutions, such as the L.A. Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art and many others, to develop the curricula. Art should become an aspect in every core class, such as math, science, and history.

"Kids could be in algebra class and also be learning music theory," said Dan Chang, L.A. Fund's executive director. "In next six months, five schools in the L.A. area will be funded."

L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy explained that the district's schools are working to move from art as a subject, to a point where every class includes an art component.

"Arts will be fundamentally involved in all of the courses," said Deasy. "Everyone of you deserves a fully funded arts program."

"We stand committed today to say we don't care what the state of California has done or says in terms of cutting schools to a pathetic level of funding, we in L.A. will stand up and surround you with the support you need," he added.

The Arts Matter campaign came a day before school board member Nury Martinez was scheduled to ask her colleagues to approve "Arts at the Core," a major policy resolution to establish arts education as a core subject.

Martinez said that the $1.5 billion cut from the L.A. Unified operating budget has been "devastating" to arts programs, particularly in elementary schools. Her "Arts at the Core" policy will ask Deasy to develop a plan over the next year to have art as the basis for L.A. Unified's curriculum. 

A product of Los Angeles Unified's San Fernando High School, an arts-based interdisciplinary school, Martinez said she benefited from an "arts at the core" education and hopes to give the same experience to all L.A. Unified students.

"There are numerous studies attributing dropout rate decreasing to some sort of arts component curriculum in schools," said Martinez. "It will be a much more rigorous, innovative way of teaching."

Martinez believes the problem is that students are not fully engaged with the current curriculum.

"Students need to able to relate to the material you are teaching through personalized instruction and if you have that child's attention, you have that student's 100 percent commitment to come to school," said Martinez. "You have to give [students] a reason to fall in love with learning and I think the arts is one of the most creative, proven ways of doing that."

(Martinez dancing with Performing Arts students; Brianna Sacks/Neon Tommy)
(Martinez dancing with Performing Arts students; Brianna Sacks/Neon Tommy)

Torres High School, the site of the campaign launch, serves as a model and learning site for the Arts Matter campaign.

Founded in 2010, the complex's five independent schools/academies teach 2,300 students and focus on a specific theme: Engineering and Technology; Social Justice; Performing Arts; Humanitas; and Renaissance.
Joan Dooley, the media arts teacher at Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology at Torres, has been teaching her 180 students about photography and community issues.

(Kruger with students; Brianna Sacks/Neon Tommy)
(Kruger with students; Brianna Sacks/Neon Tommy)

"They had to choose a social issue, and learn how to make a visual statement about it," said Dooley.

Students chose topics varying from bullying to homelessness to the environment, photographed the issue in their community, and then chose a quote to describe their image. The project was inspired by Kruger's work.

Sonia Torres, a freshman at Humanitas, appreciated the opportunity to be able to choose her focus in high school.

"I chose Humanitas because of the art and photography, it's something I never thought a school would have," she said. "Art is something I get to have everyday, it's really beautiful."

East L.A. Performing Arts Academy Principal Carolyn McKnight, explained that The Torres complex is truly a miracle for East Los Angeles.

After eighty years without a new high school in East L.A., the Torres campus gives students from all backgrounds access to a high quality arts education. Engineering classes include a dance and guitar component, and media arts are interwoven into core classes at the Humanitas Academy.

And McKnight said the results are miraculous.

"I had 95 out of my 116 kids graduate [last year], and 58 percent were eligible for Cal State and UCs," said McKnight.

McKnight has worked for L.A. Unified since 1993 and said even though they are still funded by L.A. Unified, the freedom and autonomy of the Torres complex is much different than regular L.A. schools, giving teachers and administrators a more active role.

"High schools can be more innovative and centered around a theme, and we are doing something real with that theme," said McKnight. "Kids are connecting to [the curriculum]. It is no longer an elective you take once in 11th grade, it's woven into everything you do."

McKnight said the biggest change is that kids are sticking around.

"The most beautiful statistic is the promotion rate from grade nine to 10 on time. That's the secret ingredient to changing your graduation rate," said McKnight. "All five schools have successfully managed to get their 9th graders to turn into 10th graders, and if you can get them to become 10th graders, their chances of making it to 12th grade is extremely high."

Martinez hopes Torres High School's success will be the same for other Los Angeles public schools.

"It's the start of a revolution of a new way of teaching and learning in L.A. Unified," said Martinez.

Reach staff reporter Brianna Sacks here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.