What Does an Oscar Get You?

Not What You Might Think as Hollywood High Is Learning

Only in Hollywood could a public school be one block away from where the school district wins an Academy Award. And the school compiled a list of more than 500 celebrities who attended the school. Yet funding for the arts still isn’t up to par.

The banner is still up on Hollywood High School’s auditorium, right underneath the mural with former alum like Carol Burnett, Judy Garland and Brandy. “The Last Repair Shop” advertised on the building won the Best Documentary Short Academy Award. Students rode a school bus to the ceremony around the corner and cheered when the co-directors accepted the statuettes.
The emotional 40-minute documentary is easy to find on the Internet. It details a delightful story about a program where musical instruments are repaired and given to students in the LA Unified School District.
It’s one of the last in America of its kind, where more than 130,000 instruments were revamped for the students since 1959. It’s also in danger of becoming extinct because the swell of support that came up after the Oscar win is all but poco ritard.
The district’s instruments date back to the 1930s and require a lot of upkeep. The repair shop once staffed 60 dedicated people fixing broken instruments. Now, a dozen are left. Four are profiled in the documentary.
One of them, the string instrument expert Dana Atkinson uses the documentary to discuss his coming out as gay when he was a youth in LA in 1975.
“I thought I was broken,” Atkinson says in the doc, and now talks about having a husband of 23 years and adopting a child.
An immigrant, Patty Moreno talks about struggling for food with her two children when she found the job. Duane Michaels talks about the scene with the blind man calming the monster with a violin in “Bride of Frankenstein” as an inspiration for him to pick up a string instrument.
The final scene of the documentary shows a full orchestra of LAUSD current and former students with the co-directors all playing together at the Warner Bros. Eastwood Scoring Stage. It’s beautiful, it’s inspiring, it’s forgotten.
School superintendent Alberto Carvalho basked in the Oscar glow, giving countless interviews bragging how important music is to learning and how he wants band electives in every middle and high school in the district.
It hasn’t yet happened.
A $15 million campaign was launched at that very high school auditorium that now has the huge banner in front of it. It’s supposed to be money to fund a student apprenticeship program that will build the next generation of instrument technicians.
Donations came in fast and furiously the first few weeks after the Oscar win, but an online PayPal campaign shows that the fundraising stalled. Right now it’s at $104,540.
One of the film’s directors is loaning the Oscar statuette to the shop located just south of Skid Row in downtown LA. Visitors can see it just as you walk in to the warehouse. The stars of the documentary who found their moment of fame are still hoping things will change for the better — a lot.
Right now it isn’t happening.
Previous school superintendent Austin Beutner is quoted by EdSource about how wonderful it was for the district to get such recognition for winning the Academy Award.
But, he says, “How, at the same time, could you be and have been, for more than a year now, cutting funding for the arts?”
The second largest school district in the country could be a leader in arts education, but it has actually waned over the past decade, and became worse over the pandemic.
And Beutner is concerned that the district he once led is now “the poster child for how to violate law.”

See “The Last Repair Shop” — it’s on YouTube, Hulu, Disney+. It will make you laugh, and make you cry. Maybe, it will make you donate, or make you mad. But catch it soon because it may very well be the last.

You can reach Mike at mikeszy@aol.com.

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