Music legend Herb Alpert said, "I still wake up every morning excited about what I can do with the three valves of my trumpet." That's the kind of passionate commitment which he and singer wife Lani Hall also bring to their astonishing philanthropic endeavors, which I have chronicled from time to time here on the Huffington Post. Remember we wrote about the Herb Alpert Scholarships for Emerging Young Artists, where his foundation for the past 17 years has annually given each of five mid-career artists chosen by a committee from aroud the U.S. the sum of $75,000 to further their careers and teach a course at CalArts. And we told you about their helping to open the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. Which explains why I am standing with them on a rainy November morning at a construction site in Santa Monica looking at the steel frame of a new building. My readers know that I have been proselytizing for years about the need for educational reform in this country, which ranks 26th in the world in such endeavors. But Herb and Lani have done something (actually many things!) about it. (She is the Grammy-Award winning singer whom I adored when she sang for Brazil 66.) This morning they told me about one of the most enticing of their many such projects. His long-time partner in A&M Records, Jerry Moss (a friend of mine for many years), was not present 'cause he and wife Ann were at The Breeder's Cup with some of their California horses (remember we wrote about them when their Zenyatta raced.) But they are involved with this project I'm going to tell you about, along with Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, who were off promoting his new film, The War Horse.
I recalled that Hillary Clinton famously said, "It takes a village to raise a child," based upon an old African proverb. Well, all of these folks have taken that literally, and... are building a village. Really. No joke. This site is where the forthcoming Herb Alpert Educational Village will be located. It's alongside and participating with the New Roads School, a remarkable, progressive school. (One of their board members, Monica Nachshin, and husband Robert have been subscribers to my restaurant newsletter for many years.) With liberal ideas about educating underprivileged youngsters to fully realize their potentials by attending college, they believe, so help me, give them a good education but also help them become a good person. Get the most out of a student by appreciating their differences. Their bulletin says, "We inspire our students to become creative thinkers, committed citizens, and compassionate human beings." Imagine that. Paul Cummins' New Vision Foundation is also engaged in this project. He and Herb go back to when they began the PS Arts Lawndale Elementary School District Initiative, which has brought arts education to more than four thousand children annually for the past seven years, and the foundation aids arts education in 152 schools in L.A. Paul was and is instrumental in raising the fund for the educational village. Rona Sebastian, president of the Herb Alpert Foundation, told me that they purchased the empty two-acre lot at 3131 Olympic Boulevard next to the school to provide the home for this new endeavor. (It's right across the boulevard from a huge film office complex and the L.A. Farm Restaurant, which I often visit.)
I asked the couple what was the purpose of the new village, and they thoughtfully replied in essence: "We want to bring together in one location diverse elements of the educational community -- researchers, civic organizations, students and faculty -- to foster creative collaboration and to confront the challenges of improving student success in the Los Angeles community and beyond." I was open-mouthed at the ambition and determination shown by them and their associates to bring this idea to fruition, and would have thought it foolhardy... if I wasn't looking right at and walking through the frame of the first building of the village. Herb joked, "We'll be playing the first concert in the 350-seat Jerry & Ann Moss Auditorium sometime late next year." He waggishly added, "It will be a fund-raiser, and I hope to see you there." I asked about the Spielberg's contribution and Paul Cummins said that they are financing The Capshaw-Spielberg Center for Educational Justice, which interests me mightily. David Bryan, President and Head of the New Roads School, later told me, "As a a translational education center, The Herb Alpert Educational Village will enable educational partners such as us to share in basic research about student learning, and to test and implement best practices for faculty development and enhanced student performance." He remarked to me that the new structure will offer much-need classroom space for his school, plus office space for the New Vision Foundation. He also mentioned that the new buildings will be 'green,' using locally produced materials and relying exclusively on natural light and air flow.
The building I was walking through will be the Performing Arts and Leadership Center, which will not only house the Ann Jerry Moss Theatre and the Capshaw-Spielberg project but also have classrooms, offices and meeting spaces for many non-profit organizations which are committed to educational advancement in a collaborative, sustainable community environment. In other words, synergy will rule... two plus two can equal more than four if all the elements are right.
I am truly stunned at Herb and Lani's dedication and vision for education in the 21st century... this village will be a model of collaboration and shared resources dedicated to incubating and implementing educational reforms for an evolving world. What better legacy could two amazing people leave than embarking on this stupendous adventure? Bravo to them!
To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for twelve monthly issues), email him at firstname.lastname@example.org