During the busiest parts of the year, keeping art at the center of your child’s learning requires a bit of creative thinking. L.A. has scores of quality sports and academic programs, but there are many reasons to consider mixing arts-based activities in your child’s life — even during the packed school year.
“There is such deep, profound value on so many levels with the arts,” says local artist Alexandra Nechita, whose art can be found in museums throughout the world, including a nine-foot bronze sculpture in Beverly Hills.
It’s less about the skills set than about creating a healthy friendship with the art experience, which can help kids express themselves and be happy, says Nechita, who, along with her 6-year old daughter Tevvy, graces this month’s cover of L.A. Parent.
She encourages parents to make art comfortable and fun, not a chore. Bring them to public art, to museums and concerts in the park, she says. Look through art books together, start a rock collection, let your child redecorate her bedroom and make things together at home from everyday objects.
And remember, L.A. has an exciting arts scene that offers children opportunities to learn new skills and make friends. While testing the artistic waters, your kids may uncover hidden talents.
There’s no doubt the pandemic has affected L.A.’s art programs. But many local arts venues adapted with creative options for families during the pandemic.
Theater from all angles
“Team sports aren’t the only way to teach kids skills,” says Cheryl Appleman, president of Performing Arts Workshops, which has nine locations, from the San Fernando Valley to West L.A. and the beach cities. The workshops offer kids a platform to collaborate, build self-confidence and gain language, reading and critical-thinking skills. Classes and camps include guitar, singing, make-up, voice recording, filmmaking, debate and comedy. Some kids take baby steps to find their comfort level, but no matter how they want to engage, there’s a way to find their niche. For example, in the debate program, kids learn about empathy and civic mindedness. With magic camp, kids get help with hand-eye coordination. During the pandemic, virtual performing arts classes were introduced, allowing kids throughout the U.S. and Canada to join in. They’ve been such a success that Appleman plans to keep an online presence, even when in-person classes resume in 2022.
Tweens and teens who are curious about theater can learn about the various aspects of production at Teenage Drama Workshop, held on the California State University, Northridge campus. The program, which welcomes all experience levels, includes voice, acting and dance instruction. Kids who don’t want to be in the spotlight can try their hands at design and technical theater, lighting and sound, prop design and costume sewing. “It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun, with friendship and laughter along the way,” says Executive Director Garry Lennon. After a successful summer camp season, in-person Saturday classes are planned for this fall. The goal is to expand the classes to year-round and teach subjects, such as on-camera acting and voiceovers for animation, not usually taught in summer. “The pandemic has been so difficult for everyone that arts education typically became low priority, which is ironic because we all spend so much time streaming entertainment. I’m hopeful as we begin to come out of this crisis that arts education will gain a new importance,” Lennon says.
Energetic and dramatic kids will flourish at the Theatre Workshops for Youth at Santa Monica Playhouse, which has pivoted to live-streaming and on-demand shows throughout the pandemic. These will continue, in addition to in-person production classes, workshops and shows with protocols in place. Weekly Zoom classes for kids and adults are also offered. “Boys and girls get to try their hand at all aspects of the process, from acting, voice and movement to lighting, sound, sets and props, video projections, costumes — something for every interest,” says Evelyn Rudie, co-artistic director.
The virtual YADAVISION, for ages 3-17, was created during the pandemic when the Youth Academy of Dramatic Arts (YADA) wasn’t able to offer in-person musical theater, dance and improv classes. Both online and in-person classes are currently available. “The Sound of Music” is the fall production.
Shakespeare and stand-up
Since 1973, Theatricum Botanicum has been wooing kids with classic Shakespeare in an outdoor woodsy setting in Topanga Canyon. Founded by Will Geer (Grandpa Zebulon on “The Waltons”), the youth drama program now offers both in-person and online acting and improv classes for kids and teens. There are classes for ages 8-14 and 15-18. Teens put together the entire play, from stage management to publicity. There’s also a half-day camp for ages 4-7.
Kids adapt easily to Shakespeare as they learn Elizabethan singing, dancing and even fencing. The Shakespeare text isn’t changed, just shortened. “They love it; it’s a different form of storytelling,” says Cindy Kania, youth/teen programs manager. Anyone can join, and kids don’t audition. Directors observe the class and talk to the kids about the play, then assign roles. In addition to offering in-person workshops that follow COVID-19 safety protocols, the program provides “Zoom Shakespeare.”
Another place kids (ages 6-17) can discover that all the world’s a stage is at Shakespeare Kids, which has several locations in L.A. and Ventura counties. Kids perform Shakespeare and learn valuable skills in just one week, says owner Rebekah Czarnecki. As students move from one activity to the next, learning the art of sword fighting, choreographed Elizabethan song and dance or improv and comedy, they develop speaking skills, playfulness, courage and self-confidence. The programs culminate in Shakespearean style with outdoor performances under the trees against a setting sun. When the pandemic hit, Shakespeare Kids staff and participants launched Zoom sessions to resume classes and produce virtual productions. Czarnecki hopes enough students enroll for virtual classes this fall; otherwise, weekly classes will take place in person.
Kids who are verbally creative, love being goofy and are naturals at improv will shine at The Second City, which has a location in Hollywood. Shy kids do well here, too, as they are guided out of their shells. In addition to summer camps, Second City offers year-round classes. Kids ages 4-18 learn to work with others, write comedy scenes, act, perform voiceover and create TikTok content. While in-person classes have resumed, online classes will continue due to their success in attracting students from around the world. “Arts classes like the ones we offer also lean into social interaction and creative collaboration, both of which were lacking in our children’s lives during the pandemic,” says Joshua Funk, Los Angeles-area training center artistic director.
Social justice, song and dance
At LA Opera Connects, an LA Opera community program, it’s not singing prowess that matters as much as interest in social justice stories and taking them to the stage. In camps, kids ages 9-17 are immersed in an arts training program that includes sharing stories and performing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “We choose stories that have important ideas and themes to convey. We delve into history and why this story is important,” Vice President Stacy Brightman says. During the pandemic, LA Opera Connects reconfigured the programming to offer virtual productions and content for remote learning for youth in kindergarten through graduate school. These include full-length youth operas, sing-alongs, art workshops and interactive lesson plans. The hope is to resume in-person programming this fall.
If you have kids ages 3 and older who are interested in dance but want to try something new, check out MNR Dance Factory in L.A. “Maybe they’re here for hip-hop but discover they like ballet,” says Roni Blak, artistic director. Year-round classes and summer camps include ballet, jazz, hip-hop, musical theater, lyrical, contemporary, acrobatics and aerial arts, cheerleading and tumbling. Early in the pandemic, the studio found several ways to continue operating, including working with a consulting company to set up new safety protocols for in-person and virtual classes.
For dancers who like structure, The Industry Dance Academy in Sherman Oaks offers recreational to professional classes for ages 3-18. For experienced dancers seeking scholarships or commercial work, the ballet-based academy offers dance intensive classes. “We get a lot of kids who are looking for proper training,” says Maia Suckle, who co-owns and directs the academy along with Rhonda Notary. The studio remains open for in-person classes with health protocols in place.
Painting, drawing and design
In art classes, kids learn to notice details as they paint the color of a flower or the sketch the structure of a face. “When a child makes a visceral mistake in the creative process, they have a chance to calmly let that mistake guide them into the right line or color or action, or to completely rearrange their original idea around this mistake. In accepting the process, they learn patience and adaptability,” says Ally Mathieu, owner of Paint:Lab in Santa Monica, which offers weekly in-person and afterschool art workshops for ages 6-12. Weekly Zoom classes are also offered for children and parents. In addition to learning painting, watercolor, anime and drawing techniques, kids learn about various artists, art history and how to collaborate on art projects.
Keep in mind that no one can be bad at art. It’s an abstract form of expression, says Gassia Mouradian, owner of Petit Bizoo Art Studio in Encino. The studio offers rotating afterschool art classes for ages 4-13. Kids may work with clay one week, glazing the next and then canvas painting. The studio also caters to homeschooled students with morning sessions. For toddlers, there’s Art Play Date, where kids paint and explore other materials with their parents. Plexiglass partitions create an individual space for each artist. Art kits with online tutorials are also available. “We’re not trying to make Picassos and Monets, although sometimes Picassos and Monets do come through our studio,” says Mouradian, who encourages parents to make space at home to display their children’s masterpieces.
Kids with an eye for design can jumpstart their imaginations with yearlong courses, workshops and the monthlong, precollege Summer of Art program at Otis College of Art and Design. Ages 5 to teens are introduced to the elements and principles of art and design through drawing, painting, digital media, photography, graphic design and other art media. During the pandemic, the school adapted with online experiences and opportunities to make art at home with programs such as Otis Art at Home. This fall, the majority of youth classes will take place at the Otis College campus, along with selected online programming. Courses take place on weekends and after school.
No matter what type of arts program your child chooses, the goal is to enjoy the experience. In the words of impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, “What is done in love is well done.”
Mimi Slawoff is a Valencia-based journalist and mother of three adult children. Follow her on Twitter @Mimitravelz, and Instagram @Mimitravels.