Every year, Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar fills with joyful kids ready to dance, paint, play and just plain make something at an event that may remind everyone who attends it a lot of what elementary school students do every day — or used to do before funding for school arts programs got slashed.
The P.S. Arts Express Yourself fundraiser, to be held Nov. 16, helps the organization provide funding to some 35 schools in low-income areas of southern and central California in four disciplines: visual arts, music, theater and dance. All four are integrated into Express Yourself via activities and performances in which families can participate.
The goings-on appeal not only to kids, but to kid-at-heart adults as well, like actress Lisa Kudrow. “It’s a great event because you’re raising money, and it’s a family activity day,” said Kudrow, who was inspired to become a P.S. Arts board member after attending Express Yourself. “It’s something you can all do. It’s not just a dinner for the grown-ups at night.”
The event raises between $500,000 and $1 million a year, helping P.S. Arts programs serve more than 20,000 students each week.
“We work with a disadvantaged population,” said Amy Shapiro, executive director of advancement and operations, who joined the org in 2001. “What it comes down to is giving these kids moments of joy and success.”
Shapiro said Express Yourself is particularly useful as a showcase to benefactors who can help distribute P.S. Arts to schools that still have no form of arts education. Projects are organized by corporate sponsors, volunteers and teaching artists. The event also has a notable celebrity presence, with guests such as Steve Carell, Jason Bateman and Kudrow making appearances in the past.
“You start to realize, with your own kids in school, that P.S. Arts teaches art really well,” Kudrow said. “Hopefully, when and if art programs are funded for public schools again, they use this as their model.”