2020 Grants Challenge

A Very Special Arts Festival (VSAF) 2020

Recognizing the arts are crucial in the development of every child, The Music Center’s VSAF engages 7,000+ students with disabilities, family and community members from across LA County through in-school arts learning, inclusive arts integration classroom support, and a five-day professional development series for educators, culminating in a two-day public festival at The Music Center Plaza. The festival features student performances and artwork, workshops, as well as panels and performances by community partners and artists with disabilities.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

LAUSD (please select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

The Music Center has two primary partners for its Very Special Arts Festival (VSAF): Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). There are also 80 participating schools

a different set each year

from multiple districts throughout Los Angeles County.

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

LAUSD and LACOE are active collaborators in the overall planning and conception of the festival, including selecting the festival’s theme. Both partners also reach out to all schools in their district about the festival opportunity and provide staff and volunteers to work at VSAF. Additionally, LAUSD provides bus funding for schools performing at VSAF and contributes to design and mounting of the student art exhibit. LACOE funds a select number of teaching artist residencies in schools connected to the festival, as well as bus funding for the residency schools and collaboration on the VSAF curriculum that goes out to all participating schools.

What is the need you’re responding to?

In California, only 26% of all students statewide receive access to the arts (CA Dept of Education). And in LA, we face issues of cultural equity, inclusion, and accessibility (LA County Arts Report: Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative).

Further, students with disabilities do not receive the same opportunities to pursue arts engagement compared to non-disabled peers, let alone the opportunities to celebrate artistic achievement. Those that do participate in the arts often receive instruction of lesser quality because many teachers are not trained in working with students with disabilities (Vanderbilt University’s Kennedy Center for Human Development).

To address this gap, The Music Center equips teachers with best practices and produces inclusive opportunities for students of all abilities to learn and perform, providing them with outlets for communication and classroom inclusivity. By also involving the community, we foster dialogue and promote understanding and compassion.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?​

More than LA’s performing arts capital, The Music Center is LA’s largest arts education provider, engaging over 150,000 children and teachers annually, many of whom reside in the County’s underserved communities. Our reach speaks to the quality of our programs, which have benefited from 40+ years of best practices, including robust teaching artist training. Further, our commitment to inclusivity is embodied through the newly renovated and accessible Plaza, home to VSAF, along with our new vision to serve all Angelenos. Josephine Ramirez, a community arts advocate formerly with the Irvine Foundation, oversees our education programs and ensures we remain in the vanguard of arts innovation. By leveraging resources, best practices, space, and social capital, including our connections to world class performers, LAUSD and LA County Office of Education, The Music Center is poised to support and celebrate the 3,500 youth with disabilities and 3,500 members of the public at VSAF.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?​

Direct Impact: 3,500

Indirect Impact: 3,500

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

Arts learning and creation helps students with disabilities develop self-efficacy and self-expression, and when done in an inclusive setting like at VSAF, fosters their sense of community and social skills. Further, by supporting educators, VSAF integrates inclusive arts learning into classrooms and provides teachers more than curriculum and best practices—they develop a foundation for carrying out learning beyond the framework of the festival. Ultimately, by seeking common ground through the arts, VSAF mitigates the greatest barriers that people with disabilities encounter – that is, barriers enforced by those who do not understand their needs – bridging differences and creating a culture of empathy and understanding.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

We envision a festive, inclusive gathering with school partners and local communities. Indicators of success include:


* Teachers are equipped with arts learning strategies and curriculum packets that support students with disabilities

* Students complete in-school arts curriculum leading up to VSAF; they learn and rehearse their performances; create artwork for student exhibition

Day 1:

* Student fulfillment as noted by expressions of joy, energy, completion of their performances and positive response from audiences

* Student engagement through arts workshops and live performances

* Student artwork is displayed and seen by all attendees

Day 2:

* Families and community members fill the plaza and participate

* Community ADA organizations host workshops, live performances, public panels and information booths

* Visitors gain improved understanding of people with disabilities

Data collecting consists of interviews with schools and participants, focusing on anecdotal evidence that sheds light on student and teacher experience. We also conduct surveys with attendees to measure experience and to gauge their understanding of the disability community.

Music Center staff meets with teachers and school administrators to gauge impact of the teaching artist residencies, beginning with planning meetings through post-residency. We assess student and teacher experience, as well as areas of success and improvement.

Lastly, we rely on LAUSD and LACOE input to evaluate our programs and to conduct outreach.

Which of the LEARN metrics will your submission impact?​

Arts education

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?​

LA is the best place to CREATE

LA is the best place to PLAY

LA is the best place to CONNECT

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?​

Access to the LA2050 community

Communications support