Celebs turn out full force ‘For the Arts’ in local schools

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    Santa Monica and Malibu are two lucky cities, as the school district for both is receiving the support of some heavy hitters in the arts, movie and music industry.

    By Chris Wallace/Special to The Malibu Times

    “If it weren’t for Mr. Armor at Daniel Webster Jr. High, I wouldn’t be the musician I am today – he lit my fire,” said John Densmore, drummer for the legendary ’70s rock band “The Doors,” a Santa Monica native and current resident.

    Densmore, in support of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), played a small, private concert in a hangar-sized sound stage on the 20th Century Fox Studios lot last Saturday night.

    A crowd of nearly 200, made up mostly of studio executives, artists and collectors, passed hours d’ oeuvres, drank wine, bid on art for sale, and clapped and cheered for the drummer accompanied by a tribal jazz band.

    The event, devised to raise money for a campaign called “For the Arts,” was the first step in “an aggressive” push by the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, along with celebrities and artists, to create an endowment for the arts departments in the SMMUSD. Their goal is to raise $15 million and create a permanent, privately funded bond, “with the principal invested and the income providing a constant source of funds for instruction in the arts,” according to the mission statement. The money would be allocated to the music ($11 million), visual arts ($3.2 million), dance ($400,000) and drama ($400,000) departments of all the public schools in the SMMUSD.

    The target amount the group intends to raise is 20 times the annual cost of teacher pay, grants, materials and equipment for the whole program – including both the creation of new classes as well as the continuation of already existing curricula.

    “For the Arts” honorary co-chair, actor/director Mel Gibson was absent from the gala, but the theme of the campaign was given plenty of voice. Co-chair and Santa Monica artist Sam Messer, who graciously welcomed those in attendance, said that “for most of us there was a person or experience in our early education that inspired up to be who we are today.”

    And, added, he “feel(s) it is our responsibility to do what we can to ensure future generations that same opportunity.”

    All told there were nearly 100 Los Angeles artists who lent their talents (and donated work) to the event. Frank Gehry (of Disney Music Hall fame in L.A.) donated a computer-generated sketch. Legendary artist Ed Ruscha gave a pencil-on-paper piece. Robbie Conal, whose political posters dress up bus stops and intersections all over the city, saw his piece “Watching, Waiting, Dreaming”-portraits of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama-start its bidding at $1,500. Viggo Mortenson of “The Lord of the Rings” donated “April, NYC, 2002” a poetic photo of two birds in flight, which opened at $400. Ed Moses gave a piece. Andy Moses gave one. Martin Mull, Laddie John Dill, and Chuck Arnoldi each pitched in. There were painters, sculptors, photographers, and silk-screen and computer graphics.

    But it doesn’t come as any surprise that the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation could launch something as polished, ambitious and far reaching as “For the Arts.” Many of the celebrities involved and the artists that donated work-many of them financially successful celebrities themselves – for the Fox event live in the Santa Monica and Malibu area. And the foundation can rightly expect support, and hope for contributions from the population of residents with children in the area’s public schools.

    The parents in the community are known to act. A recent Los Angeles Times article noted that “politically active Santa Monica” was already “well ahead of the curve-as usual,” as parents and students rallied in front of the City Council for help in the face of the statewide budget cuts.

    The foundation got a jumpstart out of the gate Saturday night, as ticket sales alone raised $20, 000.