Karen Klages: Altadena Teacher of the Year

Long-time music teacher Karen Klages believes music and performing arts are essential to a child's growth as a human being

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 12/23/2010

Although there were several excellent nominations for our Altadena Teacher of the Year Award from our dear readers, we chose Karen Klages, Pasadena Unified's District Music Specialist, for her long career teaching music to kids at .
While she has spent 20 years at Eliot, her career with PUSD is almost a quarter of a century long. She also teaches music at and Elementaries, but she enjoys the middle school level the best.
"The great thing is by the end of the program we get to see this huge growth spurt in terms of their musical abilities and passion," said Klages. "As a musician I'm still growing, too, of course."
Klages doesn't just teach band at all levels as well as the string program, jazz band and marching band, she also creates an ensemble that marches in local parades and events such as the Black History Parade, the Latino Heritage Parade, the Altadena Arts Council and other events.
"If we get a call, we'll go," she said. "It's important for the kids to get out there in front of people, and if they're feeling shy at first they get over it because they're in a group. And to me that's kind of the beauty of music; it brings them out of themselves and makes them part of a bigger picture, which is huge especially for middle school kids."
While most kids who come into her classroom start from scratch and don't take private lessons, instruments and instruction is provided to them, as well as a venue for these kids to excel. Dillor Zaarour, one of Klages' students, said her teaching method proves she knows what she's doing.
"She teaches by taking one group of students at a time," said Zaarour. "Like she'll take those who play trumpet and work with them, and she does that with each individual group of instrument players. Then we come together as a whole, and it comes together really nice. She does a fabulous job."
Nadine Isenberg, who was among those who nominated Klages and whose daughter was in Klages' class for two years, said Klages is extremely supportive of her students.
"Karen expands what the kids already know how to do," said Isenberg. "If they've already played one instrument, she pushes them to play multiple. That's so wonderful because it broadens their horizons and talents. She also takes them to high schools and gives them an opportunity to march with high school bands. That allows them to see if they want to continue and what their future can hold as far as their music at the next level. Then they're ahead of the game when they start high school."
Klages also helps out other teachers as the District Music Specialist. There are five part time elementary music teachers including Klages, who helps coordinate the music programs and classes. There are about 15 music teachers district wide. Eliot feeds primarily into Muir High and Pasadena High School, so Klages said it's important that they all work together and forge relationships with those high school music teachers.
She said the music program district wide hasn't been hit too hard by budget cuts so far, but she is concerned about the future.
"Last year we lost two music teachers," she said.  "We managed to make most of that cut in our elementary program. But we do a lot of after school stuff and when you're running a middle school program you just have to do that extra stuff. Budget cuts have us all running around more. We're still meeting the kids' needs, it's just we're sweating it more, and making it happen. Though I am worried about this year because they said there will be more cuts, and I don't see where more cuts can be made."
Sandi Holden, a music teacher at and president of that school's PTA, gave a wholehearted second to Klages' nomination for Teacher of the Year because of her professionalism and commitment to her students.
"It's not an easy job," said Holden, who was a former music consultant under Klages. What Karen does is a thankless job sometimes. But she keeps a very steady and chilled out response to whatever negativity comes her way. She keeps a real even keel and forges ahead. I like that about her."
Gene Stevenson, head of the Altadena Arts Council who also nominated Klages, praised her years of great work as well as the opportunities she provides for students to perform for the community.
"As far as I and the board of the Arts Council are concerned, she is the ultimate in what you would expect in an educator," said Stevenson. All three of his children were students of Klages. "I have the utmost respect for her for involving herself and her students in community events and organizations, and utilizing those opportunities to show the community just how creative the students are and how they evolve academically because of the music program."
Klages believes that music, and other performing arts, are critical to a child's development.
"I think performing arts in general, whether it's drama, music, singing, band or orchestra, being a part of a larger thing is incredibly essential for students' growth as human beings," she said. "Especially at this age when everything is so social, this is a way for them to relax a little in this environment and be part of something where we're all working together. And music is so academic. It's so tied to math; when you look at a sheet of music you're solving a problem. Kids that are learning in here, we're helping them with their academics. We don't know whether it's causal, but definitely the kids that are in music programs tend to do better academically, because they learn that focus and discipline."
Stevenson claimed that Klages took the example set down by her mother and has carried on that spirit in her own right as an excellent educator. To Klages, it's all about the children.
"The most rewarding thing for me is watching the kids' progress," said Klages. "Some of them come in here having never touched an instrument, and then to see them when they're playing in high school, it's just great."

Royal Storyteller

With ambitions to be a filmmaker, Rose Queen Evanne Friedmann sees herself as a community ambassador

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/23/2010

This is the biggest thing to ever happen to 17-year-old La Cañada High School senior Evanne Elizabeth Friedmann, and she’s having a ball, even participating in an Eileen Fisher holiday fashion show at Macy’s on South Lake Avenue and posing in a magazine fashion shoot along with her fellow members of the Royal Court, something a little off the beaten path of traditional Rose Queen activities.
Although the fashion show and the photo shoot were a little off the beaten path of typical Rose Queen activities, Friedmann is no stranger to modeling. In fact, it was her stint as a child model and her involvement in an improvisational comedy group called Comedy Sportz that helped transform her from the timid girl she once was to the bright, articulate and ambitious young woman she is today.
“I’ve always been pretty shy to get up onstage and perform,” said Friedmann. “And now being the queen, I have to be up on stage and give speeches. I’d never given a speech before and I really do give credit to Comedy Sportz for helping me open up. My mentality for trying out for the Rose Court was kind of the same as trying out for Comedy Sportz — I wanted to do it because I wanted the adventure, and I didn’t think I could do it because I was terrified of it.”
While Friedmann has stepped up to the plate in terms of being the face and voice of the Tournament of Roses, she feels more comfortable behind the scenes. Filmmaking, editing and creative writing have been her passions for many years. She just submitted her college applications to several top-notch film schools.
“I love storytelling,” she said. “My characters now have become so much more dynamic because I’ve been able to meet people and hear their stories and see their attitudes toward life, and in the future I’ll be able to use everything I’ve experienced in my films and stories.”
As for nontraditional activities such as the fashion show and photo shoot, Friedmann sees it as an opportunity to do the job she was selected to perform.
“We’re supposed to be ambassadors,” said Friedmann. “So getting publicity is great because we’re supposed to spread the word about the parade and the Tournament of Roses.”
There’s certainly no shortage of publicity or events for the court. They attend more than 150 events during their reigns — from singing the National Anthem at the Anaheim Ducks game to visiting hospitals and senior centers to attending a show at Medieval Times to meeting Nancy Reagan at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley to helping out at Princess Kathryn Thomson’s foundation “Crossroads,” which mentors middle school girls during those tough adolescent years. Friedmann even got to pilot the Good Year Blimp, proving that being the Rose Queen is a mixture of fun and responsibility.
“I feel a great responsibility to be the best queen and have the best court as can be because it’s so important to everyone in the community,” she said. “But it’s just as fun as I thought it would be, if not more. The thing I didn’t realize was how important it really is to the entire Pasadena community. It’s touching to see the community coming together to celebrate a tradition that we’ve had for 122 years.”
Events slow down significantly after New Year’s Day, so Friedmann plans to enjoy her friends and the rest of her senior year, and she looks forward to studying filmmaking next year. She certainly has a smorgasbord of great stories to tell.

Inhumane error

Baca calls Richardson death a tragedy but stands silent on calls for federal intervention

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/16/2010

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca called the death of 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson “one of the greatest tragedies you and I will ever hear of,” but he declined to say whether a federal investigation is necessary.
Baca appeared in Compton on Dec. 6 at a gathering organized on behalf of Michael Richardson, father of the woman who went missing after being released from the sheriff’s Malibu/Lost Hills Station without a car, funds or phone shortly after midnight Sept. 17, 2009. Her skeletal remains were located in August, less than 10 miles from the sheriff’s station on a pot farm adjacent to porn photographer Suze Randall’s property, where screams were reportedly heard four days after Mitrice disappeared, according to a story based on reports by area residents to homicide detectives that appeared in the Malibu Surfside News. 
The aim of the meeting sponsored by the National Association of Equal Justice was to convince Baca to call on the US Justice Department and the FBI to investigate the case. 
The Sheriff’s Department came under more criticism shortly after moving the woman’s remains without approval of the county Department of Coroner. The Sheriff’s Department and the coroner have opened a joint investigation to determine whether deputies mishandled the remains.
Although Baca did not respond to pleas to have federal authorities investigate, or speak specifically about the department’s handling of the Richardson case, on Dec. 8, while appearing with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck before a live radio audience at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, he openly admitted that deputies in general have made errors in terms of how they regard the rights of suspects and others they come into contact with.
“Twenty-first century policing is not just about technology,” Baca said. “It’s about addressing violations of the Bill of Rights, First Amendment rights and human rights. Officers have made errors in terms of what they thought their roles were. We need to revamp the department.”
Since the woman’s death, both her father and her mother, Latice Sutton, have filed lawsuits against the county and the department, alleging negligence and wrongful death.
“Releasing people from police custody after midnight without necessary resources puts them at risk, especially those who might be having a mental breakdown. It seems inhumane,” said Shirley Spencer of The Friends Group of Pasadena, which has been calling for reform of the sheriff’s nighttime release policy. Spencer attended the forum in Pasadena with fellow Friends member Gerda Govine-Ituarte.
“Certainly, if an inmate has needs that are not adult-like needs and have challenges or problems that we aren’t aware of, the vulnerability goes up,” Baca said. Family members have said Mitrice was bi-polar. “But I think what’s important is that the community be a part of the solution and not expect the institution to fix the problem.”

For more on the Richardson case, visit https://pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/a_bizarre_and_tragic_end/9123/

The ‘end’ of something special

Ben McGinty’s Gallery at the End of the World has one big event in store before closing for good

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/2/2010

Altadena native Ben McGinty had a vision for this sleepy, unincorporated town when he first opened his art gallery on North Lake Avenue in 1994. McGinty wanted to see the business community come together and nurture a local self-sustaining economy.

Unfortunately, after 16 years in business and several transformations, his vision has not yet been realized, and so the 47-year-old has decided to close his popular Gallery at the End of the World after one more weekend-long event, which begins tonight and continues through Sunday evening.

“I really hoped this area would take off,” said McGinty. “But it didn’t, so we did our own thing for awhile. Unfortunately, now it’s time for me to relinquish the reins of trying to build this business community and let someone else run with it.”
He added that it’s not hopeless for the area to be that ideal community. “It will never be a Sierra Madre, but things can get better business-wise,” he said.

Los Angeles County officials have been helping by lifting bans on parking and making the area more business-friendly. But McGinty said he just can’t wait another 10 years for that possibility to materialize. It’s just not financially viable for him.

Over the past 16 years, his shop has moved back and forth between two adjacent buildings owned by separate landlords and has morphed from a vintage clothing and collectibles store to an underground coffee bar to the Underground Art Society to the Gallery at the End of the World, located at 2475 N. Lake Ave. He began hosting monthly “art bender” weekends, which became very popular events with each attracting nearly 1,000 people. Then the events were held only once every three months.

The problem, McGinty said, was that people would come and hang out but rarely buy art, and the $5 cover charge for events just wasn’t enough to pay the rent. He was constantly breaking even and at times making up the difference out of his own pocket.

“I want to get back to being an artist and making more art and stop being an arts promoter and events coordinator,” he said. “I’m feeling the clock ticking. About every four years I reinvent myself.”

Rumors of his art gallery closing have circulated before in the past few years, but he says this time it’s for good.
Leigh Adams, who has worked with McGinty since the beginning, said she was saddened by news of yet another local business closing, especially one that tried so hard to bring the community together and one she spent so many years helping stay afloat.

“My kids grew up working in Ben’s underground coffee shop and vintage clothing store,” she said. “They learned a lot from Ben about how to support one another and their community, and what community actually means. He provided countless opportunities for young artists to show their work and brought other artists together to collaborate.”
However, for whatever reason, all McGinty’s efforts just weren’t enough to transform Altadena, which, ironically, was built by artists more than 100 years ago.

As to the community not taking to McGinty’s vision of a growing local economy, Dave Lovejoy, who has worked with McGinty for more than four years, said it’s a culmination of a lot of things.

“It’s a small community and therefore a small community of artists and supporters of the arts,” he said. “And in these current economic times, it’s just tough for a business like an art gallery.”

Helena Davies, whose parents, Richard and Gwenda Davies, participated in many of McGinty’s art showings, began as a patron of the gallery and before long started helping out by bartending at events. She sees the closure as a further fragmentation of a struggling community.

“It’s definitely the end of something special,” she said. “We’ve all gone there and developed a social network, and now it’s leaving. I don’t know why it didn’t come together, but it’s going to leave a big hole.”

McGinty’s gallery is an art installation in and of itself, which is one of the reasons why it became such a popular social hang out. Besides the main, more traditional indoor gallery, the backyard, which used to be a parking lot, is a world unto its own. From antique street signs to a vintage bar to a wooden stage to cubbies outfitted for individual artists to hundreds of magnifying glasses hanging from what once was a small trumpet vine that has now grown exponentially and wrapped itself around the fences of the property and over the makeshift canopy, stepping into this world is like entering an artist’s paradise.

“You could say that trumpet vine really tied the room together,” McGinty joked, adding that it’s one of the main things he will miss when he dismantles his “environmental installation” gallery in the coming months.

McGinty’s efforts to grow the local economy went beyond fun, well-attended art show parties. He spoke to the Altadena Town Council and the Altadena Chamber of Commerce numerous times about his ideas for local growth. He said his ideas fell on deaf ears.

He also formed the Arts Coalition along with other local merchants near the intersection of Lake Avenue and Mariposa Street. They started holding festivals in the alley just south of his gallery in an effort to get the community excited about the fact that they have a community.

“I would like to salute Ben for what he intended to do and did for everyone, and I’m sorry he didn’t receive enough support,” said Adams.

The Altadena Arts Council, which formed shortly after McGinty’s Underground Art Society in 2002, gave McGinty a Certificate of Recognition in 2007 for his contributions to the Altadena arts community. He received similar certificates of congratulations shortly thereafter from county Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Congressman Adam Schiff and then-state Sen. Jack Scott.

But McGinty and the Arts Council never officially collaborated because, according to McGinty, they had separate agendas.

“At first I thought it would be a great organization to promote local artists, but they focus primarily on art events for children,” he said. “And my scene is more about uncensored, edgy work by up-and-coming artists and aspiring artists. So the Arts Council and I never really linked.”

Adams said divisions among the Altadena community and different organizations that represent the community were among the reasons why there wasn’t enough support for McGinty’s vision.

“Ben had a visionary concept and many people couldn’t conceive of how those ideas would work without their versions of controls and checks and balances,” said Adams. “They often don’t give something an opportunity to test itself. In Altadena, we have an unusual situation since we’re unincorporated and we have an on-again off-again Town Council, who are, for the most part, very nice people trying very hard to do something that isn’t easy: reaching a consensus. But I still would have liked to see a lot more support from every area of the community.”

The highlight of his 16 years of service in Altadena, McGinty said, was watching artists’ work progressing after being shown at his gallery.

“I could see their confidence level growing and their art becoming more precise,” he said. “Seeing where artists come from and go creatively is phenomenal. That’s what I’ve loved most about all this.”

He said after the gallery is shut down he will continue to sell his wares at local flea markets. One of his many dreams is to some day open a men’s vintage clothing store. He has more than enough in his collection to make that dream a reality.

In the meantime, he just wants to get back to cultivating himself as an artist. One of his favorite quotes is “A world without art is a world without a future.” He said we haven’t realized yet that we need to focus on restoring the biggest art piece, the earth, which he compared to a painting.

“The world is one big art ball that we just keep fucking up,” he said. “So we must continue to make art, and that’s what I intend to do.”

On that note, McGinty encourages everyone to come by this weekend for one last celebration of a venerable Altadena relic. The four-day event, which includes the works of nearly 50 artists, including featured artist and Pasadena City College student Brian Dario, kicks off tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. with an artist’s reception and a performance by HB3 & Friends. The reception is free and open to the public.  

From 7 p.m. Friday to 1 a.m. Saturday is the big Art Club Opening. The Subs with Chicos Bail Bonds and Nocturra & Ric Sarabia will perform. There is a $5 cover charge. On Saturday, watch Artichoke perform and bring a dish for the potluck barbeque from noon to 6 p.m.

Also on Saturday, 25 local merchants are sponsoring “The North Lake Pole Holiday Festival” in the alley south of McGinty’s gallery and just north of Mariposa Street from 4 to 9 p.m. The event will include music, food, a raffle and sledding with real snow, which will be set up on the hill at the alley’s east entrance. Santa himself will be making an appearance at 6 p.m., according to sources who requested to remain anonymous.

HB3 will perform again Sunday for the final event, a brunch from noon to 6 p.m. appropriately titled “Tie One On.”