He believes in the arts as a basic right for kids. He is getting a $200,000 award for working for that

February 9, 2017
in Kids

Few would expect the cacophony coming from the third floor of this plain white building off Wilshire Boulevard. In one room this evening, high school students on flutes and clarinets blaze through their warm-up of scales and arpeggios before launching into a John Williams piece. Across the hallway, middle-school string players run through part of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird.” For these students, the majority of whom live in poverty, an arts education is a luxury — one possible only through Heart of Los Angeles, or HOLA, a nonprofit for youth in the Rampart community. On Thursday, the driving force behind HOLA, executive director Tony Brown, will be one of six Californians to receive a $200,000 leadership award from the James Irvine Foundation. The money, Brown says, will go a long way toward providing kids with what they so often lack: opportunity. Brown walks into one rehearsal space and a big smile spreads across his face. He waves at the students, taking a seat in the woodwinds section to chitchat with the young musicians. In another room, Brown fist bumps a cello player and high-fives another before talking with a parent waiting outside. “Every student considers him like a celebrity,” says Sandie Villanueva, who works in development for HOLA and is an alumna of the program. “That’s what makes him unique.” Across the street, an art teacher leads middle school students in an activity connecting sculpture with nature. On the walls hang student paintings and drawings from HOLA’s surrealism gallery. The building is one of four dedicated to programs in the arts, sciences, other academic subjects and athletics. Brown, 46, has been the visionary behind the nonprofit’s growth, from serving five kids to more than 2,300 each year. He says the James Irvine Foundation award will help HOLA to provide enrichment programs to even more kids. "There’s another path to help develop our young people and develop a brighter future for them,” he says. “And it has a lot of the things that we put in their lives that have been stripped out of their schools.” But HOLA...

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