Fender Play Foundation™ is a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to increasing access to music education through programs that put instruments and learning tools directly in the hands of students and teachers. The organization has partnered with LAUSD to “Equip, Educate and Inspire” the next generation of players. Ed Magee, FMIC executive vice president and a member of the FPF Board of Directors; and Charmaine Jefferson, also a member of the FPF Board of Directors; sat down with L.A. Sentinel to discuss their mission, goal, and Proposition 28.

LA Sentinel: Is there a lack of access to music education in L.A. schools?

Ed Magee: Absolutely! An equitable access to music and arts education has been on the decline for the last 10 to 15 years. The purpose of a public-school education was originally supposed to be preparing children to be great citizens of the democracy, and that requires education about civics, music and arts, history and science. That has declined precipitously.

Charmaine Jefferson: I graduated from Dorsey High School. In those days, we had everything: music, dance, theater. [American choral conductor] Albert McNeil ran the madrigal singers and the choirs, and the award-winning jazz program was incredible. For my generation, we were getting everything needed to be well-rounded. You could be a scientist, and still have the arts.

LAS: Proposition 28 is on the November 8 ballot. What would the initiative do?

EM: It’s an opportunity for all of us to permanently fund music and arts education in California. The initiative is going to dedicate 80 percent of the $800-to-$900 million dollars a year of the California General Fund to music and arts education, tax-free. That’s 80 percent to teachers of all arts. The other 20 percent will go to the additional resources needed to support those programs.

CJ: [This initiative] puts us into the position to rethink what a well-rounded and thinking human being means. Here in California, one of the top economic drivers is entertainment. You can’t have entertainment without entertainers! So, the program is the farm team to help decide whether you become a professional artist or fine artist.

LAS: Talk about your partnership with LAUSD.

EM: When COVID struck, [former LAUSD Superintendent] Austin Beutner moved 100 percent of instruction to online for the summer session of 2020. He requested a music program for the district. We had partnered with the Boys and Girls Club previously in getting a music program started, and we viewed this as an amazing opportunity. We ended up flying instruments back from our warehouse in the Netherlands into LA Unified to support that summer program.

Our mission here at Fender Play Foundation is to “Equip, Educate and Inspire” the next generation of players. So, we worked very closely with the teachers and with the music and arts departments of LA Unified to develop a curriculum to educate using synchronous and asynchronous learning. The synchronous learning occurs when the teachers are on Zoom with the kids. The asynchronous learning occurs with the Fender Play app.

CJ: Also, Austin [Beutner] was former Chair of the California Institute of The Arts. I served on one of his Economic Development teams as a mentor. He went on to be the Superintendent of schools and he took the arts with him to make it happen. Now, I’m Chair. That’s six degrees of separation!

LAS: The foundation has set a lofty goal for 2025.

EM: We want to grow the program to 35,000 kids at LAUSD, and have a program that covers essentially almost half of their middle school students. But we also want to make sure we have programs for elementary schools, and eventually high schools.

In 1975, New York City cut off all funding to music and arts education. Years later, hip hop was born. The kids in our communities have something to say, and we want to give them a chance through their public-school education to articulate what is going on in their lives, and create great art and music. L.A. is our primary center of gravity, but we want to see this grow throughout the country.

LAS: How might the community get involved?

EM: Two things. One, we’re signing up kids for the program next week. Ask your teachers, ask LA Unified, get your kids signed up. We want to see kids of color from these amazing communities participating in the program. Two, we have an opportunity as citizens to get out and vote “Yes” on Proposition 28, so that we can bring music and arts education back to California.

Find out more at https://fenderplayfoundation.org/.