Turnaround Arts: California – Empowering youth through the arts
// By Jacqueline Brennan
/ By Tamieka Briscoe /
One of the best and most memorable aspects of Upswell LA was undoubtedly the infusion of youth throughout the entire experience. During the grand finale of the three-day event, 200 youth ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade from the Turnaround Arts: California partner school Ellen Ochoa Learning Center accompanied Grammy-winning band Ozomatli for an unforgettable performance.
Named after Dr. Ellen Ochoa, esteemed veteran astronaut and the first Hispanic woman to serve as Director of the Johnson Space Center, the students are known as “soaring rockets” and the school motto is, “Together we can reach for the stars.” The student body is 98 percent Latinx.
Part of a national public-private partnership that leverages the arts to help turn around the nation’s highest-need schools, Turnaround Arts: California is one of 14 partner organizations from across the nation working with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts, and several private foundations.
Ellen Ochoa Learning Center is one of ten Turnaround Arts: California partner schools in Los Angeles County, with a total of 27 participating schools statewide. All Turnaround Arts schools are Title I schools with significant populations of socioeconomically disadvantaged students. At Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, 100 percent of the 1,300 students receive free or reduced price meals through the National School Lunch Program.
“Many of these schools face tremendous challenges, and we aim to address these challenges through the arts,” said Jacob Campbell, Program Manager for Turnaround Arts: California.
The Turnaround Arts program isn’t a curriculum, it’s an approach to school change fueled by the arts, and according to Campbell, the program is completely customizable for each school.
“It’s not Turnaround Arts in a box. We have a number of processes that help a school understand how the arts may be used to address some of their specific challenges,” Campbell said.
The program requires 45 minutes of arts instruction each week as well as a “whole school” approach. Through arts integration, the arts can be applied to any subject. Additional ways the arts are embedded include transforming the physical environment of the school with murals and beautification projects. Each school also receives arts resources and supplies from national partners such as rights to put on a musical production annually via Musical Theater International. Additionally, there are many Turnaround Arts: California coaches throughout the state serving as expert “boots on the ground” and as thought-partners with the schools.
Each Turnaround Arts school is assigned a Turnaround Artist. Turnaround Artists are creative professionals who engage with partner schools to celebrate the power and potential in communities and help amplify the positive impact that the arts have on school transformation.
The artists meet with and mentor students at least once per year. Campbell said that this component is important because it gives the youth an opportunity to imagine the possibilities.
“Artists are windows and mirrors — a window into what is possible, and a mirror that reflects the student’s story,” said Campbell.
World-renowned architect and Co-founder of Turnaround Arts: California Frank Gehry serves as a Turnaround Artist and has visited Ellen Ochoa Learning Center multiple times. The 89-year-old Toronto-born architect found the arts as a young adult when his ceramics teacher suggested that he pursue a career in architecture. He designed the Facebook Headquarters, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Louis Vuitton Foundation, The Museum of Pop Culture, and many other prestigious buildings around the world.
Last month, 30 middle school students and a few first graders had the opportunity to tour the Gehry Partners studio and see architectural drawings and models of past and future projects Frank Gehry’s team is working on.
Ulises Bella, saxophone player for Ozomatli, is another Turnaround Artist (along with the full band) that works with the youth at Ellen Ochoa Learning Center. Bella grew up in the neighborhood and because he lives in proximity, has been known to pop in to the music classes on occasion for impromptu jam sessions with the students.
Other notable Turnaround Artists include Debbie Allen, Cameron Diaz, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Forest Whitaker.
Tamieka Briscoe is an associate at Independent Sector.