Grand Vision Brings Art, Music Back to School

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By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

With the arts under attack in America, many educators are fighting back to make sure that art, music and dance remain in public schools.

Grand Vision Foundation is among those taking the fight for arts education to the forefront of its community. The organization has quietly and persistently delivered a deep and robust arts education program to more than 1,800 fourth- and fifth-grade students. The students come from the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Title I elementary schools (schools with high percentages of low-income students).

Grand Vision Foundation calls its program Meet the Music. It places art educators in classrooms throughout the Harbor Area.

“The Grand Annex presents 40 to 50 concert dates a year, but the reason we do all of this is to build community for the arts,” explained Joselyn Wilkinson, the foundation’s director of education. “This is behind all of our efforts.”

Meet the Music

Students learn to play instruments in the Grand Vision’s Meet the Music program, which places art educators in classrooms throughout the Harbor Area.

The original Meet the Music program, founded by Liz Schindler Johnson and Taran Schindler, began with Recorders in Schools, a program that started nine years ago. The lowly little recorder, a flute-like instrument, serves as a gateway tool to empower students to easily play music and even read simple sheet music.

Wilkinson, who graduated with honors from UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures, joined Grand Vision four years ago. Working in conjunction with classroom teachers, she helped fine tune what was a modest program to meet the needs of the individual schools and students.

LAUSD provides limited arts education to elementary schools. However, due to budget restraints, the schools have to choose which grade level receive arts education and for how many weeks during the semester. This means that resources are constrained in school. Grand Vision Foundation serves as a community arts partner to expand access to arts education.

“We work in partnership with the schools to step in where there is a gap and a need and provide some really rich arts experiences that the schools would not be able to provide,” Wilkinson said.

Roots of Music

Today,  Grand Vision has expanded to not only build the students’ musical knowledge but also to enhance multicultural understanding through the Roots of Music module, a program that introduces the ethnic origins of popular music.

“Our students are very fortunate to participate in [Root of Music Program],” said Lauren Baczkowski, a teacher at Barton Hill Elementary on Grand Vision’s website. “Several students are showing more confidence.”

Roots of Music includes an invaluable partnership with the Los Angeles Opera. Each year the students attend a youth-oriented opera performance at the Warner Grand Theatre. The fifth graders are presented with a rare opportunity to learn about alternative forms of music and culture while their minds are still receptive to what is out there. Teachers have an approved curriculum that introduces students to forms of music that they won’t stumble upon on YouTube. The program is taught by the Los Angeles-based world music group Adaawe. Students learn anchor concepts like rhythm, melody and dynamics by engaging with African rhythm, American spirituals and folk, and Mexican traditional music. Adaawe members are from varied backgrounds. The musicians originate from Kenya, Morocco, Israel, Panama and the United States to the classroom. Students learn the roots of popular American music while studying historical events such as the Atlantic slave trade.

The growth of the program has brought more educators and volunteers onboard to teach music, dance and visual arts.

Early Inspiration

Grand Vision was founded by Liz Schindler Johnson, who is now its executive director. She was drawn to community activism following the 1992 Los Angeles riots. She believes that many of her colleagues in community-based arts education developed an awareness during that period of civil unrest. “When we were launching the Recorders in Schools program I met with teachers,” Schindler Johnson recalled. “I assumed that they had identified musically gifted students.”

But teachers told her they had no idea who was musically talented because students never participated in music during school hours. That clarified things for Schindler Johnson. She became focused on providing an opportunity for students to discover unrealized musical aptitude.

The first instructor with the early recorder class was Andrea Dowdell. Dowdell was teaching the recorder in a small private school in Torrance. She was already an eager volunteer with Grand Vision Foundation.

“I was born and raised in Germany and it is a very common thing there to learn the recorder in school,” Dowdell said.

Dowdell suggested the curriculum that remains in use for the recorder class.

Dowdell also identified gifted students, such as a young man named Anthony, who exhibited a prodigious capacity for hearing music and playing back the tune without sheet music. Anthony was easily the star student that year and performed solo at the Grand Vision gala.

Meet the Music staff now includes Giselle Ruiz, Andrea Dowdell, Dr. Dawn Norfleet and Sukari Reid-Glenn. Both Norfleet and Reid-Gleen are flautists and composers.

Model Art Schools

But it takes a village to raise a child. Amy Eriksen, executive director of Angels Gate Cultural Center, has combined the center’s previously existing educational outreach program with Grand Vision to form the Model Art Schools program.

“Model Art School is an idea that allows us to think about integrated, sequential art education for students in our local LAUSD elementary schools,” Eriksen said. “We partner with others, like Grand Vision, to bring continued funding from our varied sources to make sure that schools are receiving arts programming at every grade level in a different art form.”

Program directors work with the individual principals and teachers to create 10-week programs in their schools.

Combining resources has allowed the school district, Grand Vision and Angels Gate to connect with students across the city.

“Often the school will have the LAUSD artist come in and do one grade level, and then we have partnered with choreographers such as Pony Box Dance Co. to come in and do the second-grade dance program,” Eriksen said. “Then, we bring in visual arts to the third grade. Grand Vision brings the Roots of Music program to the fourth grade and we bring in creative writing to the fifth grade.”

Wilkinson agrees.

“We would love to see our elementary schools with their own orchestras and bands, but the least we can do is to have every single fifth grader in our area be able to learn to play music, together with their class,”  emphasized Wilkinson.

All this requires concentrated fundraising efforts to maintain the program. Generous donations from the Max H. Gluck Foundation, the California Arts Council and a long list of charitable donors make a good portion of this effort possible.

Each year Grand Vision hosts a wildly popular Gathering for the Grand Gala. The 2018 gala on March 24 honors Andrew and Adela Sibler with a Beatles themed party titled All You Need is Love.  Tickets for the auction, dinner, and dance are available at www.grandvision.org/gala.

The foundation has booked Jackson Browne for a fundraising concert on Feb. 9 at the Warner Grand Theatre. Tickets for Browne’s benefit concert at the 1,500-seat Warner Grand Theatre are sold out on the Ticketmaster site.  A quick search turned up a few tickets on StubHub. Fans might still be able to get in.