One day after school last week, 10-year-old Allison Iraheta was a zombie. Lots of students might feel that way after a long day of classes, but Allison also was a nun, bully, ballroom dancer and good Samaritan, all in the space of about two minutes.
With the exception of the zombie, which happened to be her Halloween costume, the roles were part of an improvisation exercise in a drama class at the Los Angeles Music and Art School, a hive of creativity in East Los Angeles for generations.
Established in 1945, the private, nonprofit center offers modestly priced instruction to children and adults in music, dance, theater and visual arts. Classes are held after school and on Saturdays. Every summer, the school is home to Camp Lamas, an eight-week arts program. With more than 900 students, the school is bursting at the seams, and is about to undertake a fund-raising campaign so it can add onto its 3rd Street building, which was completed in 1967.
On the same afternoon that Steve Pell's drama students were doing the improvisation exercise, other teachers were leading ballet and painting classes, and giving individual instruction in guitar, piano and voice. "This place is the greatest thing for kids," said Lupe Diaz, a longtime Eastside resident. "It keeps them interested, instead of going outside and getting into trouble. They really get into it."
Diaz, 71, began taking art classes at the school in the 1970s. In the '80s, she brought her children; today, she brings her grandchildren and is continuing her own art studies under the direction of Andrea Gabriel, one of 42 part-time teachers.
The school, which relies primarily on private donations, received $15,000 from last year's Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign. Gifts to the campaign go to nonprofit organizations serving the needy in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Although organizations cannot receive money from the Holiday Campaign two years in a row, the Music and Arts School is an example of the kind of recipient that benefits from the effort.
"I think having a program like this in this area is really important," said Executive Director Isela Sotelo. Children, she said, "can be playing out in the street or they can be part of this program."
A less tangible benefit -- but one just as important -- can be seen on the faces of students concentrating on a ballet position or piano movement, a brushstroke or dramatic gesture. "It's positive; it's very energetic," said Patricia Hawthorne, who brings her 6-year-old son to after-school piano and drama classes. "I think it's made him more self-confident, and it brings out his creativeness."
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