The Burbank Arts For All Foundation held its third “Party on the Plaza” gala last Friday, celebrating another great year of achievement and honoring Jamie Butterworth, Peggy Zirves and the Downtown Burbank Partnership.
The annual spring event was definitely “not your plane ordinary party.” Courtesy of the Bob Hope Airport, the feasting and fundraising occurred within Hangar 40, one of the few local venues able to comfortably contain the hundreds of parents, teachers, educators and community leaders. (And everyone became a lot more comfortable when the cool evening air landed.)
Impressive visuals dominated the space. Three huge murals transformed the rear wall behind the dais into brilliant mosaics of color, the work of students at Jefferson Elementary.
Students from John Burroughs High created two huge, breathtaking banners that deserve a permanent place at the Bob Hope Airport.
The banners capture brilliantly the youthful whimsy and inspiration that turned the ancient dream of flight into blue-sky reality.
NBC4’s popular weathercaster Fritz Coleman served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, reminding his audience that BAFA has an importance well beyond its Burbank home. “No aspect of public education has suffered more greatly than the arts,” he reminded his audience. (California state budget cuts have forced the Burbank School District to tighten its belt for the past five years.) And Fritz echoed any number of studies when he pointed out that the arts help all of us to be complete human beings “who can empathize with others.”
Incidentally, Fritz had provided something of an artistic moment for his own children. “I told my kids that before we replace the old garage door, you can go ahead and put graffiti on it.” So they got their day-glo and made huge peace symbols. Fritz was hoping that they were getting any spray paint mischief “out of their system.” The decorated garage door remained for two weeks, for the admiration of all concerned.
Parental initiatives, whatever their immediate motive, are more important than ever. Funding for public school education continues to suffer “the death of a thousand cuts” within the State of California and, to varying degrees, throughout the entire country. In spite of their enormous educational benefits, public school art programs have been early casualties of the budget axe. It’s one of the major reasons many California public schools are a shadow of what they had been in the 1960’s, when California’s public school system, from kindergarten to university, was the envy of the entire nation and the world.
But for several years now, Burbank residents and businesses have been keeping the arts alive for Burbank’s schoolchildren. Since its first meeting in 2006, the Foundation has donated $250,000 to Burbank school arts programs. In 2013, the Foundation gave nearly $50,000 in grants funds to support the arts education efforts throughout the District. And it’s not surprising that Burbank, the media arts capital of the world, would embrace the young artistic talents waiting to blossom within supportive schools.
But much more than money is driving the Foundation’s quest to provide a top-of-the-line arts education program for every Burbank student. The funding dollars multiply a thousand fold thanks to the passionate teachers, parents and corporate sponsors devoting countless hours of volunteer effort, as exemplified by the Foundation’s 2014 honorees.
Jamie Butterworth received the Champion of the Arts Award for reviving arts education at Edison Elementary. Jamie and her husband, John, had moved into Burbank in 1998. When their first daughter, Sarah, entered school, they were disappointed to find how little arts education was being provided. “I became focused on the arts because it is so needed,” said Jamie. “The arts help kids to express themselves, and involves the whole mind, the whole child.”
Jamie connected with like-minded parents trying to make changes at their children’s elementary schools. By the time second daughter Rebecca entered Edison Elementary, Jamie was a force to be reckoned with. As the PTA Reflections Chair, she hosted after-school workshops and lunchtime Art Days. She chaired the booster club and raised money while continuing to make arts education a permanent part of Edison’s culture. She became the first Arts Chair at Edison and developed an after-school arts program that included theater, visual arts, dance and orchestra. Jamie also developed an integrated “Arts for All” plan for Edison students during the school day. “It’s up to the parents to assure that art is an important part of the educational program,” said Jaime.
Jamie has been involved with the Foundation from the beginning and is now serving as Programs Chair for the Burbank Art association and is the PTA Reflections Chair at John Burroughs High School.
Peggy Zirves received the Arts for All Educator Award for the life-changing impact she has had on generations of Monterey High students. Peggy has been teaching the Arts there since Monterey High opened 30 years ago. Back then she was a commercial freelance artist who had acquired a teaching credential as a backup plan. But she heard that the District was “hiring a arts teacher for continuation high school,” she decided to go for the interview in spite of having the butterflies. When it became clear that the school officials wanted a teacher that would “empower her students and not treat them as third rate,” she knew she had found her calling. She was going to give her students a genuine second chance.
Many students who had struggled in other classes had blossomed in Peggy’s. She designed her arts lessons and projects so that students at all ability levels were able to complete their lessons with pride. “I wanted to reach out to my Monterey students in ways they could understand,” said Peggy. So she took the time to know them as individuals and to encourage them to get out and see all types of art, from museums and art shows to exhibits at the LA County Fair. “I’m very proud of my students,” continued Peggy. “They’ve gone on to college, the military, running department stores, making a career of art and being successful in all walks of life.”
Peggy also worked with her fellow teachers on cross-curricular activities. She has been instrumental in strengthening the Art Standards throughout the District. When Peggy reminded her audience that she would be retiring at the end of the school year, the crowd shouted their dismay. They knew what a teaching treasure she has been for her students and fellow educators alike.
Because of teachers like Peggy, students who are academically bright may come to appreciate that the world needs a much wider range of talents to be livable, especially including the artistic ones. Because of teachers like Peggy, the verbally gifted may come to realize that not everything can be expressed in words, and some meanings can only reside in a mural or a melody. And because of teachers like Peggy, some students find the soil and water and sunshine that save them from the withering and prepare them for the blossoming.
Michael Cusumano accepted the Patron of the Arts Award on behalf of Downtown Burbank Partnership, a California nonprofit mutual benefit corporation established in 2003. BAFA recognized Downtown Burbank Partnership for their continued support of arts and culture in Burbank, as well as the many publicity and fundraising opportunities they have provided. The Partnership understands the link between having a strong arts education and having a talented workforce for Burbank’s creative economy of leading media industries.
The Partnership focuses on Downtown Burbank, an award-winning urban neighborhood spanning 34 blocks of retail, office, residential and entertainment uses. The Partnership has turned Downtown Burbank into a vibrant entertainment and shopping destination. And events like the Downtown Burbank Arts Festival, live music performances and special film showings are creating a street scene with an authentic vibe.
Award presenter Michael Hastings pointed out that business are crucial to the economic health of any city, and that Burbank was especially blessed with a strong and enlightened business community, exemplified by organizations like the Partnership.
After the award presentations, Fritz conducted the event’s live auction, summoning dollars to leave their wallets as only he can do, though he might have arranged for cooler weather. In 2013, the Party on the Plaza Gala accounted for 58% of the Foundation’s revenue, making it one of their most important fundraising events.
Fritz publicly thanked Jay Leno for having, on his retirement from the Tonight Show, made a very generous contribution to the Foundation. Fritz continues to stay connected to his comedic past, performing at Flappers in Burbank as well as other comedy venues.
When we humans started to gain some control over the struggle for survival and it no longer occupied every waking hour, we’ve had to decide what to do with all our free time. Sometimes we decided to make war, but sometimes we also decided to make art like those stunning cave paintings in France. The Foundation encourages “the better angels of our nature,” doing its part to nurture a generation that shuns atrocities and embraces art.