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A good year for Los Angeles arts students

Two new arts high schools opened for business this week, one on a $232-million shiny new campus, the other in rented space in a small church. Both have high hopes.

September 10, 2009|Mitchell Landsberg

The geographic balance was the result of a political compromise on the Board of Education between those who believed the school was promised to the surrounding neighborhood and should serve only its children, and those who believed that such a landmark campus should serve the best young dancers, musicians, actors and visual artists in the city. Another debate turned on whether students should be admitted on the basis of ability.

In the end, students were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, although Blake said the school naturally attracted those with an interest in the arts.

If the physical facility was the initial draw for many at 450 N. Grand, the magnet at the Fernando Pullum charter school was . . . Fernando Pullum. An award-winning teacher and musician who spent many years leading a music program at Washington Prep High School, Pullum was recruited to the Inner City Education Foundation two years ago and has a modest goal for the new school that carries his name.

"This is going to be the best school in the entire world," he assured about 135 ninth- and 10th-graders at an opening-day assembly Tuesday in the sanctuary of the school's new home, Paradise Baptist Church. The school will add 11th and 12th grades in the coming years. Pullum said the school will measure success by the number of students who go on to college, not by how many become stars.

Among the assets that Pullum brings to the school is an iPhone filled with contacts from the entertainment industry, where he moonlights as a working musician. Already, he has aired radio ads for the school featuring Cosby and Cheadle, and has commitments from institutions that include the Creative Artists Agency, UCLA, the Grammy Foundation and the Music Center.

"Wherever he goes is where I go," said the Creative Artists Agency's Michael Yanover, who has brought such celebrities as Roger Daltrey of the Who, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and Oscar-winning director Taylor Hackford to work with Pullum's students in the past.

Plans have already been announced for the artists Jackson Browne and Fishbone to appear at the school this month as part of the John Lennon Educational Bus Tour. Browne has volunteered at Pullum's schools for years, and Pullum plays in Fishbone's band.

Pullum's counterparts at 450 N. Grand have lined up their own list of arts-world partners, including the Music Center, Colburn School of Music, Museum of Contemporary Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, suggesting a continuing eagerness by the creative community to fill in the gaps in schools' arts classes.

Although existing arts schools -- and there are a number in Southern California -- might be expected to resent the new faces on the block, Principal Leah Bass-Baylis of the CHAMPS Charter High School of the Arts in Van Nuys said she welcomes them. "There's such a dearth of opportunity for quality arts education," she said. "You know, I think of everybody as partners."

In a city this size, Bass-Baylis said, "there's enough to go around. There are definitely enough kids to go around."


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