July 7, 2011
Subbing for Superman: LAUSD’s Steve Zimmer on how Hollywood could transform L.A. public schools
Over the course of profiling LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, who is the subject of this week’s cover story, I discovered a sad truth about Hollywood’s relationship to Los Angeles public schools: There really isn’t one.
Shouldn’t the epicenter of the largest creative industry in the world have the best arts education programs in the country? And what about creating a feeder program that trains thousands of students with skill-sets that could get them industry jobs, even those unglamorous but indispensable ones that form the bulk of film crews? Are there internship programs designed exclusively for public school students (and not just those who have connections to the industry)? For the hundreds of thousands of students matriculating at LAUSD schools, many of them from families of low socioeconomic backgrounds, these opportunities could change their lives.
Individuals from the industry have made their mark—for example, Philip Rosenthal, creator of the series “Everybody Loves Raymond” and his wife, Monica, fund an arts education campus on skid row called Inner-City Arts—but on the whole Hollywood seems afflicted by apathy.
“I shouldn’t be scraping together budget shards for elementary school arts programs that literally sit in the shadow of Paramount Studios or Fox,” Zimmer said when I asked him about recent budget cuts to arts programs district-wide.
“The centerpiece of the L.A. economy is entertainment so that should be made real in our public schools. I challenge the industry to help us to not have to worry about funding our arts programs year to year because it’s the most sensible investment they could make.” Zimmer also said he’s like to see a massive apprenticeship program develop so that “every union job for the next generation that comes out of the film industry goes to LAUSD graduates.”
These grand dreams are fair in a town that was built upon dreams and depends on them for its lifeblood. But how to realize dreams when a crisis permits nothing more than survival?
“What I’d really like to see is a summit, a meeting of LAUSD folks, arts advocates and entertainment industry people where we really sit down and determine how to secure arts education funding for the next decade,” Zimmer said. Funding is a start, Zimmer said, and has heightened importance during a time of crisis, but he wants more than money from Hollywood. “I’m looking at something more dynamic than that. I’d like to see a partnership. A mutually beneficial relationship.”
Every successful person in Hollywood should feel a responsibility to this, Zimmer said, but Hollywood Jews? Even more so.
“As Jews we have an obligation to our community, to the future of this city, and we have a calling – we’ve always had that calling—to Tikkun Olam. Here, it is not just healing it’s also investing. It’s the paying forward of tikkun olam so that we don’t have to heal another generation.”
Excerpted below is my profile of Zimmer but you can read the whole thing here.
Two Hollywood stars who do care about public education—Brian Austin Greene and Megan Fox—created the following PSA to bring attention to the impact of budget cuts on LAUSD students: