MAKING A DIFFERENCE: L.A. Music and Arts School provides creative outlet

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

Students and other East Los Angeles residents looking for a creative outlet have one located right in their own backyard.

The Los Angeles Music and Arts School, located on the edge of Boyle Heights, provides affordable music, art, dance and drama programs to East Los Angeles communities and beyond.

The facility has 22 classrooms, a courtyard, a recording studio, a multipurpose room, and more.

Tahnee Freda is the school’s development and communications manager. She said the organization “hopes to grow” every year.

“We try to provide learning opportunities,” said Freda, who wears many hats including helping with fundraising, programming, grant writing and communications. “We’ve been around since 1945. We have 75 years in the community.

“Our mission is to provide the East L.A. community and the surrounding area with affordable arts. We are the only arts education organization that offers art, music, dance and drama in one place.”

Freda, 30, said, initially Los Angeles Music and Arts School started out only offering music.

“We realized the community needed other programs,” said Freda, who is from El Centro, California. “We welcome everybody. We offer classes for any age. There are no barriers to joining.

“We don’t turn anyone away. The only question is, Are they capable of keeping up with class? We have Mommy and Me ballet classes for kids as young as 4. We have seniors come in and take private guitar and piano lessons. Adults also take advantage of the art class.”

Los Angeles Music and Arts School works with about 600 students per year, and provides Los Angeles with more than 25,000 arts lessons per year. It’s an after-school program that is open from 2 to 8 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Classes are $16 each.

The music program offers jazz and mariachi ensembles, two choirs, a youth orchestra, a string program, and advanced mariachi (a pre-professional ensemble). One-on-one lessons in eight different instruments and voices are also offered.

There is also an audio engineering workshop. Private music lessons, which are open to the community, are 30 minutes.

The dance program includes ballet, Hip-Hop, modern, jazz, Afro Hip-Hop, and musical theater (seasonal). Dance classes are 60 minutes.

The drama program offers two different classes. The first is Performance and Acting, and the second is Playwriting, taught by Freda. Drama classes, which are 90 minutes, are limited to 15 students. There is a class for kids aged 7-12 and another for kids 13-17.

Freda, who studied theater at USC, said the demographics of the kids and community members that attend Los Angeles Music and Arts School reflect the community.

Freda said about 90% of the students are Latino/Hispanic, 5% are Asian/Pacific Islander, 3% are white and 1% are Black. About 65.99% are female and 33.90% are male with .11% identifying as non-binary. They have 54% of participants with a household income of $35,000 or less and 35% claiming an income of $35,000-$75,000.

“It’s our main priority to offer everything affordable,” she said.

This year, once again, Los Angeles Music and Arts School will offer Camp MusArt — a summer camp full of music, art and drama. During the camp, held every day, rehearsals will be held for a full production at the end of the camp’s five weeks. About 60 kids can participate in the five-week session.

This year there will be two four-week sessions with 40 kids each. The first session will be held June-July and the second will be held July-August. Each will accommodate kids aged 7-15.

During previous camps, students presented “The Lion King,” “Shrek,” “Once On This Island,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Guys and Dolls.”

There also will be a summer program designed only for teens, set up like a conservatory. The camp is held daily.

“We provide the classes as an extra curriculum,” Freda said. “We are a productive alternative. We are important to the students because arts funding is always the first to get cut. When COVID hit, we went virtual because it was important to try to stay open and accessible.”

Los Angeles Music and Arts School is divided into two tiers. The first is free programs that offer music ensembles, weekly instruction, mariachi, choir, strings, orchestra and an advanced mariachi and jazz ensemble.

The second tier is tuition subsidized.

“We look at the market price of what the music classes are going for and subsidize 50% of it,” Freda said. “If someone wanted to take private lessons, we also look to see what the going rates are and we subsidize 50% of that as well. We sponsor student scholarships. Basically, if they qualify for free or reduced lunch, we offer scholarships.”

This summer, Los Angeles Music and Arts School will have a series of events at its new performance space, The Courtyard Stage, located in the middle of the facility.

“We actually built a stage and we’re hosting a robust series of events,” Freda said. “There will be student performances and local artists. There will be original plays presented and stand-up comedy featuring a diverse roster of talent.”

In addition, there will be musical theatre productions and beloved original work by MacArthur grant recipient and Los Angeles local, Luis Alfaro.

Los Angeles Music and Arts School will host 15 artist series performances for the East L.A. community, highlighting East L.A. talent. The series will open with the fifth annual (and first in-person in two years) production of “Playmaking,” the culminating effort of the seasonal program in which students learn the basics of playwriting and watch their original scripts performed by adult actors.

The series also will feature multiple nights of flamenco music and dance performed by Chicanas Gitanas.

The aforementioned Alfaro will present an updated play entitled, “Black Butterfly, Jaguar Girl, Piñata Woman, and Other Superhero Girls, Like Me” — about five young girls growing up in East Los Angeles.

The series will introduce the company of Los Angeles Music and Arts School’s inaugural pre-professional teen program, Musical Theater Intensive, in a production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Freda believes in the program because she herself “relied on the arts to give me a lot of skills and experiences I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”

This school “gives them an opportunity to experience success,” said Freda, a married mother of one. “For them to learn how to write a play and then see it performed by adults. It’s so wonderful. It grounds out your social and academic developments. They learn how to collaborate.”

Freda, who started her nonprofit work in New York in 2015, believes the arts “round you out as a person.”

“It helps you socially and emotionally process what’s around you,” she said. “It creates value in your life. Kids are experiencing a lot. It’s cathartic for them to find a productive way to express their own experiences.”

***

Tickets to all artist series shows, June through September, are now available at Humanitix.com. For more information on Los Angeles Music and Arts School’s Artist Series, visit www.LAMusArt.org/artistseries or call the school at (323) 262-7734.

“Making a Difference” is a regular feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to newsroom@wavepublication.com.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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