Dear Los Angeles: Build an Arts High School!

Just before the holidays, I had the great privilege to attend LaGuardia High School's production of Guys and Dolls. LaGuardia High School is a prestigious, specialized public arts (visual and performing) high school in New York City, training some of the city's most talented young musicians, actors (including Robert de Niro and Adrien Brody), dancers, singers, and artists, often for college and professional careers. LaGuardia's version of the production was fantastic, comparable to or better than any college musical, about as close to a full-scale Broadway production as you will ever find. It wouldn't surprise me to see some of the show's stars on Broadway or on the big screen one day. As a lifelong New Yorker, I come to take things like this for granted. We pride ourselves on having the best museums, theatre, restaurants, the most beautiful urban parks (Central or Prospect -- take your pick!), the most interesting and diverse citizens, prettiest girls, etc... I could go on and on. It's no wonder why people keep coming here to visit or live, despite how expensive, noisy and crowded it can get. New York City rocks! But it's also nice to get away from this crazy town.

I spend my summers in Los Angeles every year, thanks to my family who does business in Hollywood. Think of Los Angeles, and what comes to mind? The glamour professions, home of Hollywood, the television networks, Disney, the Oscars... Beverly Hills, Sunset Boulevard, Malibu... It's quite a show and a lot of fun to spend time there. Angelenos like to think of themselves as living in a cooler, hipper town than NYC, and I suppose in some (but very few) ways, they are right. But when it comes to K-12 education, if you think New York has got problems -- and we do -- LA's educational problems are monumental. But I want to focus on why, in a city that is the entertainment capital of the world, it is that they do not have one school that is comparable to LaGuardia High School. All of those kids living around the movie studios and not one public institution to train them? And it's not just the movies. LA is also a major recording mecca. Some of the finest musicians in the world work there -- why haven't the big labels done something to prepare young people for the music business? If they joined forces with the studios and TV networks, think of the professional level of education that would be available to public-school kids. That would be some great performing arts school.

Someone has got to go after the studios, networks, and recording labels as well as celebrities to pledge some serious money to set up free charter public arts schools across LA, from elementary to high school. The city wouldn't need to pay a single penny to fund the school, while providing aspiring arts students the opportunity for a great arts education. Selected students could develop skills in theatre, dance, singing, music, and visual arts from professionals in their respective fields. Facilities, teachers, and other learning tools would be of the highest quality. Parents of these talented students wouldn't be over-burdened with costly private coaching. Of course, getting into select schools like this is no easy task, for parents and kids alike -- it's more like hitting the lottery. Special auditions would be set up for each school, guaranteeing the selection of highly talented pupils. Since the schools would be backed by Hollywood celebrities and executives, key industry people would naturally be paying attention to the students there, giving the kids a better chance at succeeding on the big stage of life. Furthermore, the trained high school students at these charter schools would have access to highly selective university collegiate programs, such as USC, giving the kids a chance to practice their art on a more demanding, higher level of competition and accomplishment. A top-level arts education for the children of Los Angeles is necessary and would benefit the entire community, not just a select few. When the future of a successful general arts education in the U.S. is in danger from budget cuts across the country, this is no time to think small. Wake up, LA, and do the right thing!