By May S. Ruiz
August 14, 2017 marks a milestone for the Duarte Unified School District (DUSD) when CSArts-SGV officially opens its doors to admit the first group of incoming students to the Art School. A welcome festival on August 18 will celebrate this much anticipated event.
An off-shoot of the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), CSArts-SGV offers high caliber academic and arts education for students in grade seven through eleven for the 2017-2018 school year, and will expand to twelfth grade the following school year. It was established in 2016 by the California School of the Arts Foundation, a non-profit organization modeled after the nationally recognized OCSA.
CSArts-SGV students have ten arts conservatories to choose from including acting, classical & contemporary dance, classical voice, commercial dance, creative writing, instrumental music, integrated arts, musical theatre, production & design, and visual arts.
“For years I’ve dreamed of serving more students who have a passion for the arts,” declares Dr. Ralph Opacic, founder and executive director of the OCSA and chief executive officer of California School of the Arts. “Our partnership with DUSD has created an opportunity to provide the San Gabriel Valley and surrounding communities with the same quality academic and arts instruction, unique school culture, and unparalleled value that we have established at OCSA over the past 30 years. We not only train talented students in their respective art forms, we also produce highly engaged, creative students who succeed in top-ranking colleges and in careers of their choice. Our students go on to become Broadway stars, musicians and artists, as well as engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs.”
According to Janelle Kruly, director of public relations and communications, approximately 695 students have enrolled but they are still accepting applications on a rolling basis. An estimated 66 percent of incoming students are from San Gabriel Valley, with the rest from Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Fresno counties.
There is much in store for the upcoming school year including: the all-school musical – the Tony award-winning ‘Pippin’ to be held at Azusa Pacific University in November; a cross-disciplinary Master Artist Series which brings nationally renowned guest artists and master teachers to provide extraordinary learning opportunities for students; through a partnership with Descanso Gardens, students will have performance opportunities at the lauded ‘Enchanted: Forest of Light.’
Three students – Asia Aragon, Victoria Camacho, and Brayden Maniago – share their thoughts about their desire to be attending the new arts school.
Fifteen-year-old Asia Aragon, who will be attending the commercial dance conservatory, is transferring from La Salle High School in Pasadena where she was a sophomore. She had been involved in La Salle’s Arts program. At the same time, she was a junior varsity golfer and swimmer.
Aragon heard about CSArts-SGV from a friend, went to the open house, and decided to apply. She relates, “I liked seeing the different types of arts and how all the students were excited to be having a school dedicated to the various art fields. I’ve been dancing since I was six years old – I go to the Pasadena Civic Ballet. I’ve been in many performances for them.”
In fact, Aragon’s resume reads like a professional’s. She has appeared in national commercials, music videos, short films and theatre productions, and has recorded voiceovers. She played the lead role of Kim in ‘Stealth’, an award-winning short play from the American Film Institute. Her film credits include: ‘Willy Wonka: The Musical (as Violet Beauregarde); ‘Aladdin Jr’ (as Princess Jasmine); ‘Annie’ (once as Annie and twice as Pepper); ‘White Christmas’ (as Susan Waverly); ‘South Pacific’ (as Ngana); ‘The Big Bad Musical’ (as Sidney Grimm); and ‘The Doll’ (as Monica).
An alumna of the Broadway Artists Alliance in New York City, Aragon was nominated for the 2015-2016 National Youth Arts (Junior Division) Lead Actress Award for her portrayal of Jasmine in ‘Aladdin Jr’.
Aragon has modeled as the American Girl doll Ivy Ling for the American Girl/Flintridge Guild Fashion Shows for five years. She also holds the title of Miss Century City Teen USA 2017 and will compete in the Miss California Teen USA Pageant.
Says Aragon, “I hope CSArts-SGV helps me thrive and challenge me in my dance career and journey as well as prepare me for college. I plan on pursuing a degree in the Arts and am looking forward to possibly attending Juilliard, NYU, UCLA or USC.”
Victoria Camacho is a twelve-year-old and rising eighth grader. Coming from Northview Intermediate in Duarte, she was aware that her former school was going to be replaced by CSArts-SGV.
“I have always been interested in visual art but I don’t currently get any formal training – I just teach myself by constantly drawing on my sketchbook,” Camacho discloses. “I would really love to be doing this as a future career so I went online to learn more about the OCSA and CSArts-SGV and decided to audition.”
The audition for the visual art involved drawing three different things. Camacho relates, “There were about 20 girls who auditioned with me; we were seated at two large tables with several objects on them. Our first task was to draw our hand. The second was to pick one of the articles on the table to draw; I chose a seashell. The third took the longest because we were asked to select three items, place them together, and draw them. The first two tasks took about 20 minutes each while the last one took between 30 to 40 minutes.”
“I found out at the end of February/early March that I had been accepted and I was so excited!,” Camacho enthuses. “This is a huge opportunity. For the next five years I get to attend a regular school during the day and go to the visual arts conservatory in the afternoon. After high school I am thinking of going to college to get a Bachelor of Arts degree.”
Camacho adds, “I enjoy sketching because I get to express my feelings through art. I would really like to be an animator in the future.”
An avid reader, Camacho prefers mysteries and thrillers. She frequents bookstores where she picks up New York Times bestsellers. One of her favorite reads was Marieke Nijkamp’s YA fiction, ‘This is Where it Ends’.
Brayden Maniago is a home-schooled 14-year-old from Arcadia, a rising ninth-grader. He states, “I have been acting for several years so I’m home-schooled through K-12 to give me more time for acting and dancing classes. However, it could also be boring studying alone at home so I’m happy to be going to CSArts-SGV. I can practice reading scripts and interact with another actor. This gives me the structure that I don’t have right now.”
“I’m passionate about acting and I’ve always thought I’m meant for it, which is why I want to go to CSArts-SGV ” adds Maniago. “My parents are very supportive of what I do. My mom was actually the one who told me about the new school. Both my mom and dad went with me to the Open House.”
It was meeting the late Robin Williams while working as a background actor on a show that inspired Maniago to pursue acting and studying for it. He relates, “I didn’t know who he was at the time but I remember him telling me that it’s hard for aspiring actors to break into Hollywood. I also realize that the challenge increases exponentially for Asians. I want to be the first Asian to be cast in a role that’s not particularly for an Asian; I really want to change the industry.”
For Aragon, Camacho, and Maniago, being recognized for their talent without qualifying their specific ethnicity – to be acknowledged despite being of a different race, not because of it – would be a giant leap in the right direction for the Arts. For them, CSArts-SGV will pave the way for that future.