City Hearts: Kids Say Yes to the Arts believes in the beauty, optimism and potential of every young person. City Hearts has provided Visual and Performing Arts classes at no cost to children in the greater Los Angeles area for over thirty years. In a supportive, Arts-infused environment students learn and develop new skills through Music, Dance, Theatre & Shakespeare, Photography & Design. An immersion in the Arts fosters the enhanced literacy, critical thinking and confidence essential to acquiring life skills.
In 1977, Sherry Jason, a new lawyer with the L.A. County Public Defender’s Office, was on a tour of Central Juvenile Hall. In a small unmarked storeroom, she met a boy having his first piano lesson. A prodigy, playing Mozart by ear at 13, he was a convicted murderer. “I couldn’t let go of what I saw,” recalls Jason. “I kept thinking: what if he had met that piano before he met guns and gangs? Maybe lives would have been saved…and the geometric progression of tragedy would have been prevented”.
“When Sherry told me about the young man, we knew we had to do something to intervene and try to break the cycle of poverty and delinquency that destroys the lives of our children”, said Bob Jason.
Sherry Jason, a former soloist with Ballet Concerto, started with what she knew – Dance. In 1979, the husband and wife team created Ballet for Topanga and began producing The Topanga Nutcracker Ballet as a way to help young people enrich their lives through music and dance.
“Working with my Topanga students, I realized we MUST try to help the children who become our clients” says Ms. Jason. “Bob and I were determined to use the Arts to transform the lives of the children and youth we met in the Juvenile Justice System. These young people had no idea about their own creativity and their place in the world. So, in 1984, we began City Hearts and established the Downtown Dance Studio/L.A. Fringe Theatre. The idea, give the community’s most impoverished children a place to grow, create and learn to make positive choices away from gangs, drugs and delinquency.
The need and demand for City Hearts programs has been so great and continues as more and more Arts programs are cut from our local schools” adds Ms. Jason.
Today, over 33 years later, City Hearts: Kids Say Yes to the Arts reaches over 500 children each week from the most impoverished and at-greatest-risk communities in Southern California with innovative arts and performance programs. The need is great and we are planning to expand to more needy school sites that struggle with low literacy rates.
“Parents, teachers and school administrators have said that their children are dealing better with issues of bullying, are happier, have more self-esteem and strive for academic success, thanks to the confidence they have achieved through City Hearts programs,” adds Bob Jason.