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Rosie Perez on Urban Arts Partnership's education mission

Urban Arts Partnership works with public school students

Urban Arts Partnership works with public school students across the city. Photo Credit: Urban Arts Partnership

Urban Arts Partnership is on a mission.

The nonprofit began more than 20 years ago in one New York City school and since has grown to work in more than 100 underserved schools in NYC and Los Angeles, reaching more than 15,000 public school students with programs in music, dance, theater and more.

And there's more work to be done.

"Our biggest achievement is that we continue to strive," says Rosie Perez, who serves on the Artistic Board. "I hope it doesn't take another 20 years for us to get to 200 schools, but I doubt it at the rate we're moving."

Indeed, things are picking up steam. Last month, Urban Arts Partnership received a $50,000 grant from the mayor's office of Media and Entertainment and the Theatrical Teamster Local 817. And this Wednesday the organization is throwing its annual Urban Arts Festival at the United Palace Theatre.

amNewYork spoke with Perez about the group.

Why was this needed?

What the arts do is it allows you to dream and engage, develop critical thinking. It offers so many things that the academics alone cannot. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer. You can put in 100% effort. If you don't get 100% back in return, you're shortchanged. And that's why we are here. We're trying to level the playing field.

What kinds of programming are there?

We're going into graduation time, and one of our programs, Fresh Prep, has broken down the core curriculum of the Regents exam into R&B, hip hop and country songs. It's "School House Rock" on steroids. Students who have failed the regents three, four, five times, take our three-week program and pass the Regents. We also have a coding program. This is the 21st century, they should be teaching this already, and yet they don't teach it in all schools. We have a media arts program where they get to write, shoot, produce, edit, they do everything.

Are you able to get into the classrooms?

Not as much as I used to. I still do walkabouts -- I poke my head into classrooms. The kids have access to my email if they have a problem. I give them a call, we talk it out. I am blessed and fortunate enough that I still have the red carpet as a platform ... to spread the message that education has to change.

What ideally would you see change?

I would love a mandate that arts are back in schools across the board. Not just art for art's sake, not just finger painting, but finger painting with a purpose, that that art form could be integrated into the academic curriculum.

Why should people go to the Urban Arts Festival?

I think people should go to it if you really want to invest in the future of this country. Come and get inspired. And if you don't have a dollar to give, give of your time. [W]rite elected officials to spend more money on programs like this ... so our education system could be that much better.

IF YOU GO: Urban Arts Festival, May 13, 5-7:30 p.m., FREE; United Palace Theatre, 4140 Broadway, RSVP at packthepalace.splashthat.com

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