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Fund Envisions Arts Exposure for All

June 21, 2002|Martha Groves

It isn't every community that would undertake to raise a $15-million endowment to expand arts education in public schools. But Santa Monica, home to many in the entertainment business, is nothing if not different.

For the Arts ... For Every Child is meant to ensure--for all time, in theory--that each child in the district is exposed to the arts.

Fund-raising, designed to pay for new teachers and supplies, is proceeding vigorously.

"We're well into seven figures. We are on track to meet our goal," said Linda Gross, executive director of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, through which the endowment is being raised.

The campaign's honorary co-chairman is Mel Gibson, who was recruited by co-chairman Greg Coote, a movie and television producer with two children in Santa Monica schools. The men met decades ago on the set of Gibson's breakthrough hit "Mad Max."

Officials hope to have $7.5 million by the time the campaign is formally rolled out in October. So far, the city of Santa Monica has contributed more than $200,000, with the promise of an additional $500,000.

For 20 years, the nonprofit Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation has doled out tiny grants to teachers to pay for everything from calculators to camcorders.

Now Gross finds herself in the big leagues, soliciting donations at the "major gift" level--$15,000 to $150,000--and the "leadership" level--$150,000 to $3 million.

The arts fund has grabbed the attention of school officials statewide, who have cornered Gross at conferences to ask for details. Supporters expect the endowment to become a model for other districts.

"I don't know of any municipality that has developed an external endowment that would guarantee a steady funding stream from private sources for staff positions and for supplies and materials," said Hollis Headrick, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Arts Education in New York. "From what I know of programs across the country, this is unique."

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