Giesen Trust Grant Bolsters John Muir High School Arts Programs

A young woman stands inside an arts studio gesturing toward her ceramic piece she is working on Hazil works on her clay butterfly teapot inside the arts studio at John Muir High School. With PCF funding, this classroom was able to purchase sewing machines and a clay mixer.

In late January, inside an expansive, light-filled, charmingly cluttered art classroom, students at John Muir Early College Magnet High School busied themselves in front of large sewing machines and shaped their hands around earthy clay. Camaraderie, quiet chatter, and a happy calm permeated the space. PCF was visiting the art studio of Cynthia Lake, Muir’s Studio Arts instructor for 30 years. Lake’s classes emphasize expression through an enticing array of mediums and techniques: paper, fabrics, fiber, leather, beads, dyes, clay, sheet metal, manipulation of wire, enameling, jewelry appliqué, and soldering.

Muir’s arts studio is filled with light, happy chatter, and students eager to learn myriad ways of making art.

In 2023, the Pasadena Educational Foundation (PEF) was awarded a $10,000 Rowe & Gayle Giesen Trust grant on behalf of the Muir visual arts program. The funding covered the purchase of industrial sewing machines and an air compressor. It also funded an expensive studio clay mixer to replace the one Ms. Lake has used for 30 years. “We don’t throw anything away here, we focus on sustainable practices,” she says. “We mix and make the clay ourselves.”

Giesen Funding Supports Socio-emotional creativity

David Spiro, PEF’s Director of Development, points out that an important underpinning of the Giesen Trust Grants has always been that that the arts should offer socio-emotional support for students. “Cynthia Lake’s ethos is so emblematic of that concept. She likes to think about what these kids need beyond the creative experience.”

PEF was also awarded an extra $10,000 in Giesen funding to support field trips for Muir’s visual and performing arts students to exhibitions, public installations, and professional creative spaces.  Spiro says that Muir’s visual and performing arts teachers encouraged PEF to apply for the extra funding: “All three arts teachers said to me, ‘Whether they become professional artists or not, we would really like kids to see the possibilities, to see all the fields that incorporate creativity, to know making art is going to support you in whatever you do, even if it’s on the business end.”

“I have had the distinct privilege of exposing students to the fact that ‘Art Is Life!’ enthuses Cynthia Lake (second from left). “That juxtaposition of chaos and control prepares them to become resilient to failure, guiding them to succeed in many realms.” Here, she demonstrates how to thread a sewing machine.

PUSD’s Evolution into an Arts-rich District

In 2015, PEF received a four-year $1 million grant from a private funder to restore arts and music education in PUSD, with the proviso that the PEF and PUSD commit to sustaining the programs after the grant was expended.  That promise has been fulfilled, and with new funds from the 2022 passage of Proposition 28: The Arts and Music in Schools (AMS) Funding Guarantee and Accountability Act, the district has expanded arts participation even further.

Today, 100% of students in TK-5 participate in weekly visual arts and music classes, and more than 60% of secondary students regularly participate in classroom-based instruction in the visual arts, theater, dance, music, and media arts. Students are exposed to our community arts partners starting in preschool and can discover their talents, hone their skills, and develop their expertise all the way through high school.