The San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory had a big problem: Years ago, when the nonprofit looked at the kids it was serving, it found that about 75 percent were coming from San Diego County’s richest neighborhoods. The group’s leadership decided to make a change.

“Because we can’t honestly call ourselves San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory if we aren’t thinking about and acting on behalf of all the children of San Diego County,” said Dalouge Smith, the Youth Symphony’s president and CEO.

The group discovered that kids who received music education in elementary schools were much more likely to join their program. But arts and music education programs across the country have been on the chopping block for years, especially in schools with lots of low-income families. More affluent schools, meanwhile, often have parent groups or foundations raising money to keep music and arts education going.

The Youth Symphony wanted to make music and arts education more equitable. So, in 2010, it launched a pilot program at two low-income Chula Vista schools. It was a small, after-school program teaching about 70 third-grade students string instruments. It didn’t take long for Chula Vista Elementary School District to start seeing the program’s positive impacts.

“We actually expected that the first, most important findings they’d be interested in would be the test scores, so we were waiting for the end of the school year for the standardized test scores to come back,” said Smith. “But even before those results came back, the leadership started to talk about the changes they were seeing.”

The students in the after-school program changed their behaviors for the better. They got more engaged with the school, their attendance went up and, overall, they became better students. The district started investing in the program, incrementally and slowly at first. By last year, the district went all in and announced a $15 million investment in arts and music education. Now all of its 30,000 students get courses in the arts.

The Youth Symphony has gone on to start pilot projects or serve in an advisory role in similar music education programs across San Diego County, including in San Marcos, where the after-school program there has recently been expanded and looks to be following the same path as the program in Chula Vista.

Smith will be talking about the Youth Symphony’s work increase access to music education at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Meeting of the Minds, happening at the North Chapel in NTC Liberty Station.

Expanding access to the arts is a task lots of local arts institutions have taken on in recent years as their audiences continue to homogenize. Smith will be joined by arts leaders with similar stories: David Bennett, the general director of the San Diego Opera, Elizabeth Doran, the new leader for San Diego Theatres Inc., Ginger Shulick Porcella, the director of the 75-year-old San Diego Art Institute and Kathryn Kanjo, who was recently named executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, will tell their tales of how they’re getting more people engaged in the arts.

Smith said ultimately, the Youth Symphony wants to see arts education in every school in the region. Sounds like a lofty goal, right? But he said the partnership in Chula Vista proved that it’s doable. He said he hopes other arts groups and schools work together to eventually complete a wholesale resurrection of arts and music education across the country.

“A small program can lead to a much larger systemic investment,” he said. “That’s what we’ve demonstrated is possible.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

LGBT Pride Month in San Diego, an Art Plan in Chula Vista and Other Arts and Culture News

Chula Vista wants more art and culture opportunities and experiences for its residents. I wrote about the city’s newest attempt to pass a plan to promote arts and culture in the city.

The San Diego City Council Tuesday proclaimed July Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month in the city. The proclamation comes just days before the big San Diego LGBT Pride festival happening this week. (Times of San Diego)

• Stockton, the neighborhood just south of State Route 94 and Interstate 15, isn’t known as a hotbed of arts and culture. But a local high-end furniture-maker is opening an art gallery thereMax McDonald (disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) decided to carve out some space inside his workshop to serve as Local Butcher, a new art gallery that opens with a group show from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday. McDonald said the gallery will feature new shows every three months or so.

• A few weeks ago, I released episode No. 3 of Culturcast, which puts me at the halfway mark of the first season that’s focusing on the tension between the arts renaissance and gentrification happening in Barrio Logan. Catch up so you’ll be ready when the next episode drops in coming weeks.

• The California Arts Council doled out $8,726,168 in grants to California nonprofits. San Diego grant recipients include North Park’s Art Produce gallery and community center, the San Diego Art Institute, The Aja Project, ArtReach and the Center for World Music.

• Inside Philanthropy’s Mike Scutari offers this analysis of the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst grant, an evolving program that pairs local visual and performance artists with nonprofits to create new works.

Canadian performer Hershey Felder is back in San Diego with another solo performance based on the lives of famous composers. This time he’s Leonard Bernstein and the U-T says it’s one of his best.

• Community leaders want to turn an eyesore into an asset by painting murals on vacant buildings at the corner of University and 41st Street in City Heights. (Reader)

Change needs to happen on C Street. That’s the message developers and some business owners in the area are hoping to get across at a happy hour presentation on July 14, at The Local Eatery and Drinking Hole. Sloan Capital, the developer that owns the dilapidated California Theatre at the corner of Fourth and C streets, is holding the event to kick off its campaign to win community support for its plans to tear down the theater to make way for a new project. (Reader)

• Actor Steve Martin will take to the Old Globe stage this summer in a conversation with the Balboa Park theater’s artistic director. (U-T)

• The AjA Project put together this cool map of all of the participatory public art projects they’ve been involved in over the years.

The U-T’s got details on the new joint exhibition by the Timken and the University of San Diego’s art gallery.

Walk outside right now and I almost guarantee you that, no matter where you are in San Diego, you’ll see at least a few people holding their phones in front of them as they play the new Pokemon Go game. Balboa Park in particular has seen the Pokeplosion. Now a group of redditors has made the game a little easier for San Diegans to play. (U-T)

• Quartyard, the pop-up park at the corner of Market Street and Park Avenue in East Village, has always been thought of by its creators as an “experiment in flexible temporary urbanism.” No matter, a growing number of San Diegans want it to stay where it is forever. There’s an online petition circulating that asks Civic San Diego, the city’s redevelopment agency that’s entered into negotiations to sell the lot housing the park, to consider making Quartyard a permanent part of East Village.

“It’s grown beyond a temporary park – it’s now a thriving popular community space, and has earned the right to a permanent home in downtown San Diego,” the petition reads.

Ralph DeLauro, the man behind the San Diego Public Library’s Film Forum programming that ran for 31 years, was let go last year. He has found a new home for his film events at the Chula Vista Public Library’s Civic Center Branch. The next event is July 13.

CityBeat has the story behind that big purple elephant in Hillcrest.

Food, Beer and Booze News

This. This. This. Troy Johnson admits to taking his kid to Chuck E Cheese and begs someone to start a similarly kid-friendly restaurant-game spot that offers food and beer that doesn’t suck. I too admit to many hours spent at Chuck E Cheese, which is why I passionately second his motion and promise to be an avid patron of said craft-culture-minded game and food place for kids.

The U-T talks with the head chef of the just-opened Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen restaurant in Little Italy.

• San Diego lawyer Candace Moon wants to trademark the term “Craft Beer Attorney” but other lawyers say she can’t do that. (The Wall Street Journal)

• I’ve been a part of a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, which essentially means I paid a farm money in exchange for a box of fresh produce each week. I’ve even been a part of a BSA and gave money to a local bread maker who baked me and my hubby fresh bread once a week. Now there’s something called Community Supported Restaurants, and  The Red Door in Mission Hills is joining the growing trend by offering its customers memberships. (U-T)

There are many reasons to have a beef with beef. That said, it’s delicious. San Diego Magazine talks to one restaurateur about the quandary.

Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She also managed VOSD’s podcasts and covered...

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