To Suzanne Nichols and other advocates, arts education is not simply an extra-curricular activity that can be dismissed when budget cuts loom; it is essential to the development of students.
That is why Nichols’ organization, Save The Arts, is looking to raise $39,000 this weekend to help Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students experience dance, theatre, music and visual arts, some of which are not offered in some schools, she said.
“There’s a very long way to go,” Nichols said. “That’s why people need to advocate for arts education. They need to speak up.”
In its third year, the organization will host its annual benefit from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. The event is themed, “Movies Filmed in the Cocoanut Grove”, so movies such as “The Graduate”, “Apollo 13”, “Forrest Gump” and “The Wedding Singer” will be screened.
Participants will also enjoy live entertainment. The Chester Whitmore Opus One Big Band will perform, as will Broadway star Jennifer Leigh Warren, Chris Mann of “The Voice”, Whitney Carson of “So You Think You Can Dance” and Lindsay Pearce of “The Glee Project”.
An art auction with works by LAUSD students and professional artists, such as Shepard Fairey, Michael Blasi and Deborah Krall, will be held. Nichols said the sale of student artwork will help purchase art supplies for the New Open World Academy at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she added. “It’s going to be amazing.”
In the benefit’s first year in 2011, Save The Arts helped provide theatre to 1,000 students in 10 schools, Nichols said. Last year, the organization helped provide music coursework for 500 students. This year’s benefit hopes to reach 40 schools.
“Every time we put money in the classroom, it’s like purchasing a teaching position,” Nichols said.
The idea behind Save The Arts began in 2010, when the LAUSD made a series of cuts to arts education programs — with the possibility for more being discussed, she said. Nichols said she asked a teacher to help her create a benefit event, and a coalition of teachers, parents and students was formed.
“[The arts are] beyond important,” she added. “The arts are as important as math, social studies and language arts.”
Nichols knows this first-hand, as she works as a drama teacher for several schools, including Hancock Park, Third Street, West Hollywood and Wilshire Crest elementary schools. She was also a classroom teacher at Normandie Avenue Elementary School, and has a third-grader at Hancock Park Elementary.
“I know how important it is to give these kids exposure to everything they can experience,” the Mid-Wilshire resident said.
While it seems as though cuts to arts education have stabilized in recent years, the state of the arts in the LAUSD could be better, Nichols said.
“The good thing is the arts haven’t been cut this year — not much anyway,” she added.
Nichols said the benefits of exposing children to art are numerous. She said students who enjoy the arts sometimes improve their grades in other subjects as a result. Arts education also makes sense from an economic standpoint, Nichols said.
“The arts are such an economic driver — it’s everywhere,” she added. “It’s all around you. You can’t escape it. So you might as well support it.”
Nichols has expressed that message on a national platform. She appeared on “Katie” with Katie Couric, and was the first honoree on the show’s “Women Who Should Be Famous” segment on Oct. 4.
“What Save The Arts has done for kids — it’s given them their own voice,” she told Couric on the show.
The effort will continue beyond this weekend. The five-year drama teacher said Save The Arts will have another benefit event in November in which the organization will acknowledge the students who participate in Saturday’s benefit with a Save The Arts high achievement award.
“We’re going to follow them and find out how they’re doing in school,” she said, adding that the organization will recognize students who have “gone above and beyond” in all academic areas.
The event will be held at the Cocoanut Grove at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, 701 S. Catalina St. Tickets start at $25, and can be purchased at savetheartsla.eventbrite.com.
For information, call (323)219-5693 or visit www.savethearts.net.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.