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Signature gatherers work hard to shore up funding for music and arts in California schools

M.G. Perez
Michael Clark, 13, works with his classmate Thalia Medrano, 13, on a group mural art project at C.P.M.A, Jan. 25, 2022

Michael Clark is an 8th-grade student at the Creative Performing Media Arts (CPMA) Middle School in Clairemont.

The 13-year-old had never tried making art until last fall when he was assigned to Max Swann’s class.

RELATED: 5 works of art to see in San Diego in February


Swann is the CPMA Middle School art teacher who started his career in mathematics.

“I got a math credential and an art credential,” Swann said, “I quickly found out how much they overlap and interconnect.”

On a recent Tuesday morning, Swann guided Michael and his classmate Thalia Medrano, 13, on their portion of a class mural that will be displayed on campus.

There were measurements and calculations involved in their 3 x 3 square canvases that will display artwork from dozens of other students when the project is completed.

Even as a novice, Clark is a natural at working with paint.


“You can express yourself in different ways with colors," Clark said. "Like, for example, you can tell your mood in colors. You can see how your day is going and express it by doing art.”

M.G. Perez
Max Swann is the art teacher at the Creative Performing Media Arts Middle School, San Diego, CA, January 25, 2022

Swann is passionate about his art as he conveys comfort and confidence to his 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students.

“I try to give them techniques and tools but leave the prompts open to their creativity so they can express themselves the way they want,” Swann said.

The CPMA art class is an example of creativity that has survived the COVID-19 crisis and budget cuts.

It’s also an exception.

Even though the California Education Code mandates art, music, theater, and dance be offered to every student, less than one-in-five public schools today have a full-time art and music teacher.

RELATED: San Diego weekend arts events: Brendan Nguyen, San Diego Symphony, Andrés Hernández and more

Californians for Arts and Music Education in Public Schools hopes to change that.

The group is led by former Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner. He resigned from that position last June after serving just three years.

Beutner then started organizing a coalition of educators, entrepreneurs, and creatives with a single mission aimed at placing a measure on the upcoming November ballot to fund arts and music education in every public school across the state.

During a recent online press conference, Beutner said, “We are the creative capital not just for America but really for the world. That dichotomy between a robust creative industry and public schools that just don’t offer that same opportunity is what we are trying to address.”

Californians for Arts and Music Education in Public Schools
Actor John Lithgow speaks for Californians for Arts and Music Education in Public Schools during an online press conference, January 19, 2022

Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor John Lithgow also appeared in the virtual media event to show his support.

He is now the “face” of the California ballot measure to save the arts. He’s pushing for signatures and will be pounding the pavement for votes.

“This is a time of tremendous divisiveness and political turmoil,” Lithgow said, “everyone is hot-headed on the subject of political issues but the arts bring people together in all sorts of ways.”

Organizers have until May to collect the necessary 662,000 signatures to get the proposal in front of California voters in November.

According to Beutner, they are working to get 1,000,000 signatures by the deadline to make sure the measure has enough valid signatures.

The ballot measure would direct the legislature to use at least $800 million dollars of state money to pay for arts programs in every public school.

There would be no option to defer the money elsewhere if there is a state budget surplus.


  • Dedicates additional funding to arts and music education in public schools – without raising taxes
  • Increases arts and music education in every PreK-12 public school in California
  • Has strong accountability and transparency measures, including requiring schools and school districts to submit annual, public reports to verify the funds are spent as intended
  • Improves equity with additional funding for schools that serve low-income Black and Latino families
M.G. Perez
Cathy Hickman directs her students Daniel Leyva-Velez, 11, and Carson Foster, 12, in how to deliver lines on stage at C.P.M.A., January 25, 2022

Cathy Hickman is the drama teacher at the CPMA middle school and she has taught classes on the campus for 20 years.

Hickman admits she often uses some of her own money to support her students and hopes California voters will direct the state to do the same in November.

“It would be nice to get help in order to serve the community the way it deserves to be served," Hickman said. "With all the proper resources, things for building sets, all the technology and to make sure things are upgraded in an appropriate way.”

M.G. Perez
Zyariel Morgan, 11, and Isabella Galindo, 12, rehearse a lyric poem in a theater class at C.P.M.A, San Diego, CA, January 25, 2022

6th-grade students Isabella Galindo, 12, and Zyariel Morgan, 11, are first-timers to the stage in Hickman’s class.

The proud young ladies of color want to see more artists who look like them.

“Whatever obstacle life will throw at you," Morgan said. "You don’t stay down. Get back up again. That’s why I want to be an actor because of that challenge also.”

“Theater helps me get less shy and be more confident in myself and feel proud of who I am when I’m acting,” Galindo said.

Paid signature gatherers are being used by Californians for Arts and Music Education in Public Schools to meet their goals.

Organizers are also reaching out to teachers, administrators, and parents to spread the word in hopes of reaching a fraction of the 6-million children who go to public schools in California every day.

Collecting signatures to guarantee arts and music for all CA public schools