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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Persistence Assures that Public Education Will Include the Arts

BY JULIE WALLACH


Despite recent deep cuts in arts education throughout the nation, Malibu public school students engage in an exemplary arts education program that includes dance, music, theater and visual arts courses.
Local government legislation, non-profit organization fundraising and grant writing have supplemented the state’s $17 billion shortfall in education during the past two budget years.
Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation’s For the Arts and Save Our Schools campaign; Arts for All; Malibu High School’s Arts Angels; and Stairway of the Stars have either restored or helped maintain arts instruction districtwide.
During last summer, Save Our Schools raised $1.6 million for the current academic year. A portion of the funds was allocated to restoring four art teacher positions.
Amy Loch, Malibu High School’s choir director, was pink-slipped last June due to budget cuts in the arts and other departments. Her position was restored at the end of the summer with SOS funds. Loch explained that without private fundraising efforts, “orchestra teachers with seniority would have been teaching chorus to middle and high school students and elementary school students would have no music instruction this year.”
Community involvement helps maintain arts in local schools during this difficult economic time. Loch said, “Community members are loyal patrons of our concerts. Students have also collaborated with local musicians as well as Malibu High alumni who have continued on with their pursuit of the arts after graduating.”
Arts for All is Los Angeles County’s blueprint for arts education. According to Tom Whaley, the district’s Visual and Performing Arts coordinator, “In 2006, during a wealthier time in the state, our district was selected by the L.A. County Arts Commission as one of five vanguard school districts in the county to develop a long-range arts education plan. We are in our sixth of a nine-year plan to access and equity for students districtwide.”
Part of the success of this plan is orchestral/choral music instruction for all third- to fifth-graders.
Whaley spoke highly of Superintendent Tim Cuneo’s decision to set aside a portion of federal stimulus arts funding for the upcoming academic year, when budget cuts are once again slated to reduce arts instruction. The reserves will be used to retain VAPA’s current programs.
Thor Evensen, a Malibu High visual arts teacher, noted, “High school students are required to take one year of art instruction to meet state university requirements; there probably wouldn’t be art classes without this law.” Evensen teaches six art classes that include drawing/painting, ceramics/sculpture and digital design.
“They [Malibu High] keep it where there are only two fine arts teachers to keep costs down, so when other schools are hit with budget cuts we can still offer classes.” Evensen added, “We have a strong art department in Malibu because of strong parent involvement and donations to Arts Angels.”
Benefits in retaining arts programs throughout the district are displayed throughout the year at various theatrical, orchestral and choral shows. This fall, Malibu students have performed in shows such as “Cabaret,” an annual Arts Angels fundraising event; “Radium Girls,” D.W. Gregory’s drama; and a wind ensemble and jazz band concert.
Five singers from Malibu Middle and High School will perform at the National Honor Choirs in Chicago next spring. Upcoming performances include the 62nd annual Stairway of the Stars, a districtwide music event; a spring semester musical at Malibu High and various holiday choir and orchestra events.
“Arts Education provides a place where students can learn the creative process,” Loch said. “Students develop skills of critical and creative thinking, problem solving, self discipline, and collaboration. The arts provide a way for students to express emotion as well as learn to empathize with their classmates, their community and the global community.”

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