"The first thing that administrators cut was the arts," Plimpton said. "They don't cut sports because, if they did, they would have rebellion in the trenches. The community goes up in arms if sports are cut. But when administrators cut the arts . . . there was never any outcry. As a principal, I found it easier to cut the arts, although I felt terrible about it."
Some Programs Restored
Arts programs in some schools have been restored, Plimpton said. But he added that in many parts of the county, particularly inner-city areas, the courses have not reappeared. Moreover, high schools have been prevented from restoring arts classes because they have had to add other courses needed to satisfy increased graduation requirements imposed by the state Department of Education and the University of California. "There are not enough periods left in the school day for students to take arts," said Plakos, the Norwalk-La Mirada school administrator who helped found the academy.
Plakos said the academy is uniquely suited to accommodate these students, especially the college-bound, who otherwise would have no opportunity to study the arts. And she said it benefits school districts that cannot afford to offer an extensive arts curriculum on their own.
Paul Minicucci, consultant to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Arts, agreed that the concept works well in Los Angeles. "The trick will be to convince the governor that there is no alternative way to fund it," he said.
The academy has formed a foundation to raise funds from private donors, such as corporations. But, according to Plimpton, the private sector's contributions to arts programs also have diminished over the last several years. He expects the foundation to generate no more than about $60,000 this year.
To help the academy along, actress Jean Stapleton, a member of the academy's advisory board, has volunteered to give a $150-a-ticket benefit performance of a one-woman show, called "The Italian Person," at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall in the spring. In October, producer Tony Bill plans to host a $100-a-person benefit breakfast at 72 Market, the Venice restaurant he owns.
Although no conflicts have yet arisen, the academy may find itself competing with the county arts high school, which also will be seeking private-sector money. Director Charles Stewart said he "would be very happy" to raise $250,000 this year.
But Plimpton said he does not think conflicts will be a problem, largely because the high school will remain small, with no more than 500 students primarily because of space limitations, and will be mostly state-funded.
He is not concerned about competing for students, either. The high school and the academy, he said, have different approaches that will appeal to different groups of students.
"We're kind of the farm team. The purpose of our program is to introduce kids to the arts," Plimpton said, while the high school is geared to the advanced student ready for a full-time commitment.
The academy courses are offered at Excelsior High School and Falcon Cable Television in Norwalk, University High School in West Los Angeles, Plaza de la Raza in East Los Angeles, Montebello High School, Los Angeles High School, Beverly Hills High School, Glendale High School, Southern California Regional Occupational Center in Torrance, Inner City Cultural Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of African American Art and UCLA. All courses are available at each campus, and class size is limited to 20.
The instructors are professionals in each field. Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, actor Sidney Poitier and comedian Sid Caesar were guest lecturers last year.
Any 9th- to 12th-grade student with at least a C average is eligible for admission but must be recommended by his or her school. The deadline for applying this year is Sept. 26, with classes beginning on Oct. 5. Applications are available by calling the academy at 825-5242.
Although some complained that that they had teachers who were poorly organized or classmates who did not take the work seriously enough, for the most part academy students interviewed by The Times gave the program glowing reviews.
"Some kids didn't like getting up early on Saturday and came in late," said Ken Mootz, a Warren High School student who studied screen writing at the Academy's Norwalk campus. But he found the overall experience so satisfying that "it made me want to be a screen writer," he said.
Larron Tate of Van Nuys High School said he enjoyed learning acting from a "real actor," an experience that his school does not offer.
"In regular school," said Tate, who landed a part in a television commercial for athletic shoes last year, "when they teach you acting, it's different. It's not by a professional. My teachers (at the academy) let me go free, from the bottom of my heart, and it came off so well. . . . It was just magnificent.
"I hope the school gets the money it needs."