By Stacey Gualandi/March 24, 2012
Did you hear that? It’s the sound of yet another arts and music program being slashed from a public school. It’s an epidemic sweeping the country and it’s only going to get worse. And nowhere is it being felt harder than in California.
But Abby Berman is one Los Angeles mother, raising two children in public school, who said enough is enough. When I first met Abby last year, she told me about a charity she was working on called Adopt The Arts, a non-profit that will help raise the needed funds to keep arts programs in schools. We first wrote about her organization in a story last fall.
Well, I was thrilled to attend the official launch party and silent auction at the Hotel Sofitel Los Angeles recently, hosted by actress Jane Lynch and former Guns n’ Roses’ drummer Matt Sorum. The inaugural event brought in over $100,000!!!
Scientific studies have shown that kids with creative outlets in school are 52% more likely to go on to college, so Abby is adamant that the arts remain an integral part of a child’s education. She explained, “The arts form all of us as a community, and if we abandon a whole generation of kids by not educating them and giving them the opportunity to express themselves through those creative outlets, I can’t imagine what our society will look like.”
Abby says she came up with the idea for Adopt the Arts two years ago. During that time, she enlisted her neighbors Jane Lynch and Matt Sorum to lend their support. It is a grassroots effort that literally began on their front lawns. Jane, who now serves as a member of the charity’s board, has a 10-year-old daughter who enjoys playing a number of instruments in public school.
She spoke emphatically about her passion for the arts. “I think they are so devalued in our society, yet they’re so important. It’s the civilizing force…same as in sports. You work as a team for the greater good. It’s a great equalizer and a great lesson to being an adult.”
As a co-founder, Matt’s commitment to ATA has become “the most important thing I am involved in.” He has adopted several schools out of the 535 in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He visits them in person and has provided hundreds of guitars and musical instruments to many of their music departments.
“I don’t have kids of my own, but I have all of these kids in the schools that I care about and believe in. I get really lifted up and it helps me to realize that there’s more to life. I’m contributing to the world. I want my other celebrity friends to do the same and feel what I feel,” he said.
It looks like his plan is working. His friend, famed chef Kerry Simon, opened his restaurant Simon LA for the scrumptious fundraising dinner. And the evening closed with Matt’s band, “The Magnificent Seven,” who rocked the house with special appearances by a who’s who of Hollywood: John Stamos, Mark McGrath, and Donovan Leitch.
Other several celebrity “friends of Matt” showed their support like “That Thing You Do” actor, Johnathan Schaech. He says he loved to paint as a young student. That eventually led to acting, and now screenwriting. He added, “I know I would not be where I am if not for the arts in my life. If we can go into these schools and make a difference, I’m all behind that and can rally behind Matt. And I’ll adopt a school and bring my actor and musician friends with me.”
Jane admits she wouldn’t be on “Glee” if not for her school choir. “My high school years would not have been so joyous. We had cheerleaders, jocks, geeks, woodshop kids, nondescript kids, popular kids…everybody. We were equals when we were singing. It was the most focused I was during school. I felt more myself. I didn’t worry about what I was wearing or what people thought of me.”
But launching a charity like this has its challenges. Abby, however, is optimistic. “To fully fund all four art disciplines in an LAUSD public elementary school costs $65k per year. The budget was just announced. There will be no art next year. At all! If we could raise $18 million by September, that would be fantastic. It’s not enough but at least it’s something.”
While Adopt The Arts is making its mark in Los Angeles, the goal is to adopt programs all across the country so no school goes without art, music or dance teachers.
Jane says it couldn’t be done without women like Abby. “Women have always been a driving force when it comes to kids. History is packed with those examples. Abby is one of those exceptional parents…she volunteers at her kids’ school. She’s one of these tireless people who, while making the school a better place to go, said why don’t we give other schools a hand because it’s so important.”
To find out more, please go to http://adoptthearts.org/.