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Music Center hosts Special Arts Festival for county students

LOS ANGELES — The Music Center’s 41st annual Very Special Arts Festival Nov. 8 showcased the talents of more than 3,500 students of all abilities from schools throughout Los Angeles County. 

More than 85 schools participated in the festival, which included both student and professional on-stage music and dance performances on the Music Center Plaza, plus a multitude of arts workshops and experiences throughout the morning. 

In addition, the festival highlighted more than 200 individual visual artworks created by students based on this year’s “Homecoming!” theme. Their artwork was displayed inside the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. 

The free, annual event, the only student festival of its kind in the county, celebrates the students’ artistic achievements and encourages active participation in the arts and connection with one another as a community. 

“The arts are an essential way we see ourselves reflected in the world around us,” said Josephine Ramirez, executive vice president of the Music Center Arts. “The Music Center is proud to provide a platform for students of all abilities to see themselves reflected here. 

“The Very Special Arts Festival gathers our local community together to honor and celebrate these students as performers and artists, and to acknowledge their immense creativity, power and resilience.” 

When not performing, showing off their best moves out on the disco dance floor or walking the red carpet and taking pictures with friends in photo booths, the students were entertained with a dance performance by Straight Up Abilities’ students; music by INCA, the Peruvian Ensemble and a sleight-of-hand show by magician Allen Oshiro, among other presentations. 

The festival also hosted numerous visual and performing arts participatory workshops led by professional artists, including: 

• Michael Aschenbrenner from the U.S. Veterans Artists Alliance led a “Homecoming Flags” workshop allowing participants to create their own interpretation of a Homecoming flag to share with a veteran.

• Craig Woodson’s World Orchestra led “Bring Home Your Music,” which enabled students to make and decorate a fun combination of shakers, drums, scrapers and string instruments. 

• Peggy Hasegawa led the “Origami Photo Frame” workshop where participants created and decorated an origami photo frame to save their red-carpet photos. 

• Rosanne Kleinerman hosted the “Create a Red Poppy Brooch” workshop teaching students how to make brooches to wear and show remembrance and hope for a positive future and peaceful world. 

• Lena Rivkin taught students how to create a festive, hand-held mask for homecoming during her “Welcome Home Collages” workshop. 

• Joan Harrison showed students how to use California imagery of Sycamores, native birds and mammals to collage and stamp on tree of life wall hangings during her “Homecoming: California Trees of Life” workshop.

• Dance instructors from Straight Up Abilities, an L.A.-based organization that inspires everyone to live their best lives through dance, hosted a “Be Extra Amazing” dance workshop. 

As part of the annual tradition, Very Special Arts Festival students also interacted and had fun with students from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Students from the school’s visual arts and theatre programs sponsored a face-painting workshop and offered dance lessons at the on-site disco. 

Prior to this year’s Very Special Arts Festival, the Music Center engaged three schools in an arts integration residency by connecting professional teaching artists with special education classes. 

In a Visual Art-residency, Harrison led students in creating abstract art with a variety of textures, including sculptures at Bella Vista Elementary School in Monterey Park, and the creation of tabletop theatre, backdrops and puppets for students to tell their stories of Homecoming at Unsworth Elementary School in  Downey.

Steel drum musician Joseph Peck worked with students at Lindbergh Elementary School in Lynwood to create a Caribbean Drum Circle, which they performed at the festival. 

The Music Center’s Very Special Arts Festival is produced in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Schools throughout Los Angeles County with students in grades K–12 are invited to participate. 

Support for this year’s event comes from Wells Fargo, the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and LSMK Investments. The festival is part of the Music Center’s longstanding, multi-faceted arts education program that annually serves more than 150,000 students and educators throughout Los Angeles County.

Wave Staff Report