Welcome to the real (and spectacular) ACMA

Day to day, hour to hour, ACMA is a magical place. For those of us who get to be on campus during the school day, the sight of students singing in the hallway, applauding around a lunch table, or playing an impromptu piano concert in the commons is part of our usual ACMA experience. Our students carry portfolios and sculptures to class, ACMA filmmakers seem always to be shooting a scene, and during passing periods groups of dancers dash from studios to changing rooms like schools of colorful fish. What we see when we’re here from 7:30 in the morning until school lets out at 2:05 is striking both in artistic diversity (poets, painters, animators, actors, singers and set builders) and talent. To be immersed in ACMA is to live Neil Gaiman’s line: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”


All too seldom do we have an opportunity to share this wild artistic abundance, and…

Once a year all of our disciplines pull together to do something spectacular. For a night or two audiences come to campus and have the opportunity to be immersed in art and surrounded by creative students doing what they love. 

This week, February 7th and 8th, our ACMA Spectacular gives the unsuspecting (well maybe suspecting) public a chance to see our dancers, actors, and musicians performing together. Those who buy a ticket for Friday or Saturday night hear poets, see photography and fine art, and are able to support our young artists in a thousand ways (including purchasing a piece of art they can take home). The Spectacular allows everyone to experience a sliver of what our students do, walking a hallway filled with creativity, energy, and passion, and then ducking in to see performances that span the creative spectrum. 

What to expect at the Spectacular? Everything. Anything. 

Come early for the Monster Drawing Rally. I plan on joining in on the creative fun, drawing right there with the audience and creating a piece or two that folks can purchase to support AMCA artists.

Spectacular_2020_PosterHear our musicians play while our dancers perform The Carnival of the Animals.

Have a seven minute portrait done of your kid, your parent, or yourself …suitable for framing!

See a show stopping number from Cabaret, witness poets collaborating with dancers and visual artists, and listen to our vocalists remind us that all we need is love.

If you like a silent auction, we’ll have that too, plus gift baskets, refreshments, and artistic surprises (like a cinema showing ACMA films and a few booths described to me, in “so very ACMA” style as “a renegade craft fair”).

This is a chance for the world to experience ACMA and support the arts and artists who make up our creative community. There is still time to buy a ticket for one of the two nights, a bargain at $45. All of the proceeds go directly to helping ACMA continue to provide a fantastic arts experience to our students.

I thank everyone for supporting our ACMA artists, and I look forward to seeing you at this magical place we call home.


You can find out more and purchase tickets for Friday (2/7) or Saturday (2/8) through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support our kids.

Support Your Local Artist

Spectacular_2020_PosterAbout a year ago I had the pleasure of introducing Arts & Communication Magnet Academy’s ACMA Spectacular with three truths: “I believe in art. I believe in artists. I believe in ACMA.” I do, and I also believe that art has a transformative power that makes our world better for everyone, the audience and the artists. Everyone


Art doesn’t happen without support. Sometimes that support is wild applause. Sometimes it is quiet encouragement, gentle reassurance, and the unwavering belief that the artists can and will make magic. Sometimes that support is as simple as a few dollar bills.

Artists have had patrons since artists have been artists, and in a world of education where the arts sometimes takes a back seat to other worldly concerns (at least in the minds of decision makers) patrons of art education have never been more important.

Right now you have an opportunity to make a profound difference. With a few mouse clicks or touches to the screen of your phone you can change lives by supporting student artists and art education.

On February 7th and 8th ACMA is staging this year’s ACMA Spectacular, a celebration of arts and artists that draws on the talents of all of our disciplines, showcases student work, and shouts to the world that art matters!

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 9.16.29 PMThe Spectacular is our biggest fundraising event and all the profits go directly to helping kids.

Those young artists are hard at work now, rehearsing songs, dances, and scenes that they’ll share with audiences in less than a month. Our filmmakers are shooting and editing, our painters are painting, our sculptors are sculpting, and our poets are polishing verse. All of them are passionate about the work that they are doing, proud that patrons will be able to purchase that work at the event, and excited to share their performances with anyone who buys a ticket.

It’s through those tickets that you can support these creative souls, and I would encourage anyone reading this post to consider the $45 ticket price not only as admission, but even more as a contribution to something that matters: art and artists and ACMA.

You can find out more and purchase tickets through our PTO website. I hope to see you there and thank every person who helps to support out kids.

Dog-a Lisa

A Spectacular Parade

What will make it spectacular will be the students. Artists, actors, dancers, and musicians, photographers, poets, and performers of all types, these ACMA students will collaborate this February to fill our school with an astonishing extravaganza: The ACMA Spectacular!

The ACMA Spectacular is a joint effort between our school and Parent Teacher Organization. Replacing the auctions of yesteryear, The ACMA Spectacular is our biggest fundraiser of the year, with ticket sales for the performance going to help support students and programs, opportunities to purchase artwork at the event, and fun ways to support the school while getting a little something as a prize like live caricatures by our drawing students or copies of our literary magazine or student literature anthology.

At a place where so many departments produce amazing work, this is the one time of the year when everyone works together to celebrate the kaleidoscopic delight that is Arts & Communication Magnet Academy. The ACMA Spectacular will live up to its name.


…and it will be different. Delightfully so.

For nearly thirty years ACMA has been tucked away on a little campus off of Center Street, and for the past decade most performances have taken place in our beautiful performing arts center. This year that campus is a flat lot, an expanse of dirt the blank canvas on which our new building will emerge. The new building will attach to the PAC, a fact that’s good for kids, but right now means that our most beloved venue is surrounded by chain link construction fencing. It is a reality that invites innovation.

At ACMA we know how to innovate.

So with this time of change in our minds and the energy that comes from improvisation filling our creative soul, this year’s ACMA Spectacular will embrace the notion of upheaval and take as its theme art in motion, a parade.

Specifically, Picasso’s 1917 ballet Parade. A performance of the ballet, complete with ACMA designed costumes and sets, is the starting point and one of three centerpieces of this year’s ACMA Spectacular. 

Parade was actually written by writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, with music by “gymnopedist” composer Erik Satie, and surrealistic sets and cubist costumes designed by Pablo Picasso. Their early 20th century collaboration was novel to say the least, and the result left Parisian audiences as confused as they were delighted. 

The story goes that E.E. Cummings was at the premiere of Parade, and dug the surrealist experience. I like to imagine that the show at least helped to inspire his 1924 poem…

you give us things
bulge:grunting lungs pumped full of sharp thick mind

you make us shrill
presents always
shut in the sumptuous screech of

(out of the
black unbunged
Something gushes vaguely a squeak of planes

between squeals of
Nothing grabbed with circular shrieking tightness
solid screams whispers.)
Lumberman of the Distinct

your brain’s
axe only chops hugest inherent
Trees of Ego,from
whose living and biggest

bodies lopped
of every

you hew form truly”

And sure Picasso’s costumes were clunky, made of wood and cardboard, and the set tilted with shapes and angles, the work of a painter, not designer. And yes, the music slips into ragtime during the show (and ragtime ballet is not a rich genre …yet). And yep, the story was about a group of artists struggling  to gather an audience for their show, busking the streets of Paris, trying to capture the attention of passersby. But a century later the idea of Picasso’s Parade is as rich with possibilities as it was on the day before opening night 1917.

Such collaboration and innovation is something we’re proud to do at ACMA, and from the start of this year’s soirée both are evident in the work we’re doing to prepare.

You can see this inspiration finding its first voice in the artwork for the ACMA Spectacular poster. ACMA visual artists were asked to come up with representations of a parade, and shared a parcel of images with our PTO, a creative collective of parents tasked with marketing the event. Wildly diverse, these artistic interpretations reflected our students’ many points of view.

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 3.05.33 PM.png

A clever parent looked at these offerings and embraced the improvisational mantra: “Yes, and…” The end result was a wild mélange that included bits from many of the students’ work. Like so much of ACMA, this parent’s ingenuity embraced the abundance of art and allowed something marvelous and unexpected to emerge.

Last year’s Spectacular was epic, both in spectacle and duration. This year we’re already working on tightening up the show, even as we keep the connections between artistic pathways and representations from each. We hope, like Cummings’ Picasso, to “hew form truly.”

This year, in our temporary home on 118th, three venues will hold that “sumptuous screech of simplicity” (well, maybe not too simple), as one big experience fills campus for two nights of artistic celebration. Dance, song, art, spoken word, and so much more will be on display, some of it for sale. We’ll stage Picasso’s Parade in the large dance studio, with costumes by our visual artists and music by our orchestra and band, and have two other theatrical spaces where audiences can see the artistic power of our amazing students.

This is a fundraiser, so we hope our patrons and friends will give generously as they enjoy the show. Supporting art and artists is a tradition as old as time, and all of our students benefit when the community around them both believe in them and help provide the resources they need to create.

The 2020 ACMA Spectacular will be filled with some surprises, some standards …and all ACMA!

You can purchase tickets now at our PTO website!

The Doors

The End

In just a couple of weeks we’ll be walking out the door of ACMA, down the stairway beneath the circular portico, and away from a building that won’t exist when we begin school in the fall. It’s a weird feeling, knowing that this building we love won’t be standing by the start of school next year, and that makes it an emotional time for lots of us who have called the C.E. Mason Elementary School building home, some for decades. And…

It’s going to be okay. We know that the heart of our school isn’t in the walls (that would be asbestos and seventy year old plaster). The real ACMA is in the people who fill the school, kids and adults, and the history of creative souls who have called our school home over the years.

Riders on the Storm

Amid this emotional maelstrom, we spent some time this year honoring that history, and the results have been fabulous, including a fun alumni night in February, slide shows at lunch, and some fantastic documentaries by our film students.

In addition, we’re working to bring some of the distinctive ACMA wainscoting with us to serve as the front of the circulation desk in the library and the reception desk in the main office of the new campus, we’ve captured the murals that can’t be moved in photographs that will fill our temporary campus in the fall, and we have a deal with the movers that they’ll save all the painted doors on campus for us, which we’ll use as an installation art show in the fall of 2021.

And as we listened to students, staff, and alumni, we got to thinking, is there a way we could each take part of our school with us?

People are Strange

Those of us who know and love our school know that the exquisite strangeness of ACMA is something marvelous. Unconventional, creative, wildly iconoclastic, our school embraces looking at things divergently, and at their best the results can be fantastic.

That perspective led a few of us to start kicking around other ideas for how we might keep the spirit of C.E. Mason alive, and someone thought…

Hello, I Love You

We love our old building, and hate to see it go, and while we know we can’t save every corner, what if we kept that door of memory open by having something we could save, a little piece of at least, something to hold, something to take with us.

We looked around at what that something, or those somethings might be. Knowing that we have a talented group of stagecrafters, we headed out to the scene shop and ran an idea past some saw wielding techs.

Break on Through

We have these doors, we told them, robust, solid, and installed in the 1940s. What if we took a few of the doors that haven’t been made into canvases for our artists off their hinges and chopped them into cubes of ACMA that we could stamp and give away?

The students smiled and nodded to each other. “We could do that.”


…and so I have two boxes of ACMA in my office.

Some pieces of ACMA were given out at our ACMA Spectacular, others will go to 2019 graduates, still others will find their way onto desks and bookshelves, atop coffee tables and into dorm rooms, little reminders of a school we love.

Breaking Fire Codes, Probably

“How many of you have never been in the principal’s office? Show of hands.”

A few perplexed looks. “Not for misbehavior,” I added, “just for any reason, you’ve never physically been in that particular room at the school.” A few more hands went up, fewer than I expected, which was marvelous.

We were finishing a Senior Ohana, where the class of 2019 was hearing about caps and gowns, how to audition for the senior speech, and getting my paternal advice about making good choices and the fact that the police see hijinks in a different way than they might.

We’d torn through the list of end of the year activities and responsibilities, nominated staff members to give a speech at graduation, and talked about the big breakfast on the last day of school. After all of that, I offered to them an opportunity for creativity and discomfort.

IMG_0259They were curious.

I asked for that show of hands.

And then, the invitation.

This May ACMA is staging the first ever ACMA Spectacular! It’s two evenings of performance and art that include every creative corner of our school. Students will sing, act, dance, make music, and make the audience applaud like they’ve never applauded before. There will be collaborations between artistic pathways, a slew of student art in the foyer (for sale to benefit the school), and some surprises thrown in to boot.

Our writers and filmmakers, sculptors and storytellers, everyone will have a hand in putting on an event whose scale our little art school has never seen. Amid a busy May, it’s the biggest show in town, and I explained to my seniors that to talk about the ACMA Spectacular in my monthly video message I needed something more than my usual talking head. I needed something …spectacular!


If you’ve ever wondered if fifty or so students can fit in the principal’s office at one time, some with horns and bass guitars, the answer is a resounding YES. If you wonder if a group like that will laugh a lot, be kind to each other, and make their principal the proudest educator in the world, another big affirmative.

ACMA’s class of 2019 is an astounding collection of creative, kind, and collaborative souls, and today I was blessed with their company, energy, and smiles. It was spectacular!



What if we got everyone together, all the performing arts: theater, dance, jazz, orchestra, vocal music; asked our writers to read their works and filmmakers to screen what they’ve been working on; filled the foyer with visual art, sculpture, and even included some of that in art in the show? What if we made something big, something that showed off every corner of ACMA, from our composers to choreographers, painters, poets, filmmakers and more? It would be, quite simply …spectacular.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 6.38.20 PM

The conversation, which ran like a wildfire through our ACMA staff, was prompted by some creative thinking ACMA PTO members who were looking for something other than the traditional auction to support our kids. ACMA has never been conventional, and the idea of doing something that welcomed everyone, adults and families and put the focus squarely on the art just made sense. Beautiful, unconventional, ACMA sense.

So… rather than an evening where the star of the show is a stranger rapidly reciting numbers, this year we’ve given the emceeing to one of our ACMA family, we’ve broken out of the conventionality of of a dinner and series of speeches, and we’ve put together creative acts that the community will be talking about for years to come. More than a parade of items to bid on, this show will be a cavalcade of creativity. Rather than tell folks about what our students do, we’re excited to show them the astounding artistry ACMA artists are capable of. Jaws will drop.

One of the joys of being the principal at ACMA is having the opportunity to see student artists creating every day. In studios and classrooms, I see kids painting, animating, writing, singing, dancing, playing jazz, sculpting, drawing, taking photographs, making movies, designing sets and costumes, playing classical music, and more. To call that inspiring undervalues the word inspiring. Under one roof we have such a broad spectrum of art that not everyone gets to see. Until now.

This May ACMA is going to share its collective creativity with the world in our first ever ACMA Spectacular! It promises to live up to its name.

Our dancers will dance, our musicians will make music, our writers will read, our filmmakers have been working on films all year for this event. Anyone visiting the Performing Arts Center will see sculpture, drawing, and painting, all of it for sale to benefit our students. In addition to those pathway specific performances we’ll also have collaborations between departments, some never seen on stage before. Tickets for the two shows are on sale now, and are well worth the price of admission, all of which goes to supporting student artists at ACMA.

It’s that idea of supporting kids that is at the center of all of this, and celebrating art as we do so. Truth be told, I’ve had a good time at more than a few auctions over the years, but I’ve never looked forward to an auction the way I’m excited about this year’s adventure in art.

It will be the biggest collaboration ACMA has ever seen and every ticket purchased, every piece of art sold to an ACMA patron (and there will be so many at such a range of prices), will help to ensure that the arts can continue to thrive.

Today more than ever the importance of art looms large. As budgets constrict and the world turns its eyes toward less poetic matters, art, and the artists who make it, continue to be a source of hope.

Joining us for the ACMA Spectacular, either on Friday night, for a more streamlined show, perfect for families; Saturday, with every bell and whistle; or even Saturday’s VIP experience, for those patrons of ACMA arts who want to contribute in a big way (and will get a bonus pre-show historical tour, concert, and ACMA gift bag), joining us for any of those experiences is a great way to enjoy great art, cheer amazing artists, and contribute to the future of ACMA art yet to be created.

It should be really fun too.

And since this is the last year students are here at the present campus that opened as CE Mason Elementary School in 1949, we’ve put together some historical retrospectives that celebrate the entire life of our little school. Our audience will take a look into the past, revel in the artistry of the present, and join us in looking to a future that promises to be …Spectacular!

Tickets are on sale now for both shows at our PTO website
Family Friday, May 17 at 7:00 PM

Gala Saturday, May 18th at 7:00 PM