Cleveland School of the Arts

by | Jan 29, 2016 | Arts & Culture, Schools & Education

CSA student artwork in conference room

CSA student artwork in a conference room.

Monday, January 25, 2016 – The corner of Carnegie Avenue and Stearns Boulevard in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood is a major crossroads for those traversing from the near east side suburbs into our eds/meds district or continuing on to downtown Cleveland. Smack dab at this intersection sits the brand new Cleveland School of Arts (CSA). And, knowing the newcomers we work with would ask questions about this beautiful, highly visible new building, we arranged a private tour for the EA staff to hear why this school is so unique (unique feature #1 – a public City of Cleveland high school that has 100% college acceptance from its graduating class!).
CSA exterior rending

Exterior of the new Cleveland School of the Arts – rendering courtesy of CSA.

Head of School, John LaPelley, helped guide our tour, as did three handpicked students, Angel, Jimmy and Alex. Here is what we learned/saw:
CSA is Cleveland’s own version of the performing arts high school that was the inspiration behind the 1980 movie Fame. With Cleveland Metropolitan School District offering open enrollment to all students (you can chose the school you want to go to, not just accept the one that is geographically closest to your home), CSA has 600 students from all over the region. And, while 20% of those who go through the audition process are not residents of Cleveland, priority is given to youth who live in the city. Regardless, because of its stellar reputation, students come from as far away as Youngstown and Kent to attend!
CSA's Head of School, John Lapelley, talks to EA Guides Suzanne Dannemiller & Brad Withers

CSA’s Head of School, John LaPelley, talks to EA Guides Suzanne Dannemiller & Brad Withers.

CSA has eight majors: vocal, orchestra, band, visual arts, photography, literary arts, theater and dance; and, often students come directly from one of the Cleveland elementary arts based schools: Newton D. Baker School of the Arts in the Kamms Corners neighborhood and Dike School of the Arts on E. 61st.
Auditions are competitive and take place this year on February 12th and March 12th. The school often has as many as two applicants for each available slot.
our student tour guides, Angel, Jimmy & Alex

Our student tour guides, Angel, Jimmy & Alex.

Unique feature #2 is that 10% of the students have dual enrollment in Cuyahoga Community College’s  High Tech Academy at no cost. These students spend a portion of each day on the college campus and many graduate from high school with 20-40 college credits under their belt. Now that saves a lot of money!
CSA art work

Student art in the CSA’s gallery.

If you are wondering how the curriculum of a performing arts high school differs from a typical high school, here is unique feature #3: students take all the typical classes you’d think of for high school: math, language (Mandarin at CSA), English, social studies, science, etc. Those in 9th and 10th grades focus heavily on core curriculum, and 11th and 12th graders focus heavily on their arts major.
When first proposed, there was some concern about the demolition of the former school building (a classic brick building that really looked like a postcard of a school from the 1930’s), but very few would complain about the gorgeous new contemporary structure with giant windows that flood light into the classrooms and that provides actual studios specifically designed for music, dance, etc. The building eliminates the inherent disadvantage that students must have faced when competing with students from other arts schools around the country for jobs in the industry or performing arts college admissions.
CSA dance studio

Jimmy gives a tour of a dance studio (not only a CSA student but also president of his class).

Each class day ends with students participating in orchestra or band, and there are more than 100 students in the choir.
It typically adds $1M to the budget of a school to have a performing arts focused curriculum (think studios, art supplies, instruments, recording studios), which is why they did away with the “friends of” model last year and went with a board of trustees and a development director to raise the additional monies needed above and beyond what the City of Cleveland can afford to put in its budget.  If you’d like to donate money (OR AN INSTRUMENT), they would welcome your generosity. Some of the instruments are from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation that gave schools across America money to keep performing arts as part of the curriculum, but that was from the 1990’s. And as with any expensive item that has to travel by bus back and forth to students’ homes in Cleveland’s tricky weather, they need replacement and repair often.
For more info, here is a great article from about CSA’s new building and another on architecture firm RL Bowen’s website regarding their design process.