I have been involved in Arts for All since the beginning, but so much of my thinking about how to contribute to large scale initiatives dates back to 1992. As the Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Social Responsibility at Sony Pictures Entertainment, I was part of the Los Angeles Urban Funders, a project that supported the communities most affected by the uprising that took place that year. The effort introduced me to what is now known as collective impact. Not only did we pool resources and expertise from many different sectors, but those of us around the table also benefited from working collaboratively to undertake comprehensive community-building goals.
Part of what made the Los Angeles Urban Funders work so successful is that we addressed the needs of the communities from several angles. I saw that a similar strategy might work well for arts education. Sony Pictures was already actively supporting arts education in the Culver City schools that surround our corporate headquarters. In fact, I personally participated in the district’s strategic planning process. When Arts for All helped the district establish a Community Arts Team, I joined to help envision programming and an infrastructure to support continued arts education over time. But I believed that if many funders came together to also contribute to a larger County-wide effort, we might be able to make a difference for many more students. This idea of bi-modal funding – supporting arts education on a local level, in combination with contributing to the larger effort toward systems change – was the founding principle of the Arts for All Pooled Fund.
Arts for All launched the Pooled Fund in 2004 with a sizeable gift from the Entertainment Industry Foundation that was matched by a smaller investment from Sony Pictures. From there, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation joined in. For more than a decade now, I have watched this model strengthen Sony Pictures’ individual efforts while also allowing our contributions to impact districts and students across the County.
Sony Pictures has continued to invest in mission-driven projects that foster the talents of young people and help them develop as artists. Our product donations spearheaded the launch of the film program at the California State Summer School for the Arts, providing high school students from across California with intensive arts learning. We also initiated the Sony Pictures Media Arts Program in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and CalArts Community Arts Partnership, to provide after-school instruction in drawing, animation and media arts for middle school students around Culver City. Seed funding and capital support from Sony Pictures also helped establish the Culver City High School Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, a specialized high school program that enrolls approximately 250 students annually in over 40 classes and workshops in dance, theatre, film, music and visual arts. We have seen many Academy students go on to top arts colleges or to work directly in the entertainment industry.
Sony Pictures is firmly committed to its role as a good citizen of the planet and we maintain a strong relationship with our local community. I believe that by supporting arts education in public schools, we are helping develop the next generation of creative thinkers, problem solvers and leaders. This is especially important in Los Angeles, where one in seven jobs is in the creative economy. After all, we are the entertainment capital of the world! As an entertainment company, Sony Pictures’ future livelihood depends on cultivating a workforce that is able to tell both personal and universal stories through the written word, compelling performance, musical scores, and a visual aesthetic.
Trying to reshape arts education in a county as sprawling and complex as Los Angeles has required new kinds of thinking, based on listening and learning before funding. We couldn’t have done that alone.