The cheerful theme music from a 1960s-era Merrie Melodies film plays, and small children begin dancing to the joyful rhythms. As the cartoon continues, however, some children suddenly shout, “Pause!”
A picture of Daffy Duck is projected on the screen while an instructor gives the 30 children blank sheets of paper, markers and paintbrushes. Meanwhile, artist Monica Martinez begins to draw the character step-by-step on a whiteboard at the front of the room.
“Cartoons and Cereal,” led by Slanguage Studio, an artists’ collective, is held one Saturday a month at Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory. The course reflects one of the Conservatory’s key values: teaching marketable skills to young people.
Established in 2008, the Conservatory began by providing music and art lessons, but last year changed its format and programing to focus on career enhancement.
“When we started our programing, it was just a wish and hope. We didn’t know funders were going to take notice that we’re doing something different,” says the new executive director, Carmelita Sánchez. Financial sponsors include Dell, Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Sánchez’s vision is to teach the skills needed in the film and music industries. She has 25 years of experience in radio and broadcasting, including 15 years as an on-air DJ in Los Angeles. She also understands how tough it is to make it in these industries.
“We want to concentrate on building the business skillset so we have young people know that filmmaking, lighting and all these jobs are actual careers. The chances of getting those are a million times greater than being a star in front of the camera.” says Sánchez.
Professional artists and musicians often teach the classes, including members of HNDP Helping the Next Developers and Producers (HNDP).
Eleven-year-old Diego Martínez of Alhambra has been attending HDNP’s video gaming class at the Conservatory.
“My favorite thing is that I get to create things that are mine and my ideas,” Diego says. He says he would consider going into a career as a game developer to use the skills he is learning.
The Conservatory lists more than three dozen classes and almost a dozen workshops. One class, “Art Trek-The Vinyl Frontier,” teaches youth to design and create their own album artwork. Other classes include video production, video game play and development, intro to beat making/music production and recording and gaming, where the mission is to learn how to use logic and strategy in both games and in real life.
Aaron Durán, co-Founder of HNDP, says its “Make Video Games” class pushes underserved students to lead and develop in the professional video game and music field.
“Our hope is by starting students at an early age with professional tools, they can quickly gain confidence in their abilities as developers and artists,” says Durán. He says the Conservatory’s commitment to the community is a reason his organization chose to hold its weekly class there.
“Carmelita’s resourcefulness in bringing together people is what sets BHAC apart.” says Durán.
Half of the students at the Conservatory come from Boyle Heights and surrounding areas like Lincoln Heights and El Sereno. Participating youth receive breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Parent Armando Martinez has been bringing his two children to the gaming program for a few months now and is interested in finding out what other programs the Conservatory offers.
“This type of programming is super beneficial. He’s already trying to do this stuff at home,” Martínez says about his son, Diego. “Video games and becoming the creator behind them is all he talks about.”
The conservatory recently got a radio license and plans to start a radio station with five other community groups. It will broadcast digitally 24 hours a day.
The brick building that houses the Conservatory, with large windows on the first floor, is at 2708 E. Cesar E. Chavez Avenue. It was built in 1924 and renovated a few years ago.
The building’s owner, Frank Acevedo, gave the first floor to the Conservatory. A real estate manager and chairman of the Conservatory’s board, Acevedo had once dreamed of pursuing a music career, but didn’t have the opportunity. He has helped the Conservatory create a hybrid-business model for the Conservatory, including nonprofit and for-profit activities. The second and third floors of the building are used for for-profit activities that help fund the Conservatory downstairs.
“We always had this discussion about an organization that can support itself and an organization that no one could come take away because the funding isn’t tied to any regulation.” says Sánchez.
The Paramount Ballroom on the second floor provides a concert venue and event space, complete with full kitchen service and a liquor license. It will eventually employ students who have been trained through the Conservancy’s workshops to run lights and sound equipment. The third floor provides spaces for artists and musicians.
Sánchez says teaching skills to young people gives them better opportunities for careers in the music and art industries.
“We appreciate that there’s many organizations in Boyle Heights that really concentrate on college as a goal,” she says. “However, we also appreciate that many young people feel that that isn’t their path, and we respect that.”
Samantha Olmos, a freshman at Cal State Los Angeles, is a former student journalist with Boyle Heights Beat.
For more information and a schedule of classes: www.BHArts.org
2708 E. Cesar E. Chavez Avenue (213) 273-6170
Dinner served daily to youth, 4:30-5:30 p.m.