Today we’d like to introduce you to Aimee Hopkins.
Aimee, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started at age 17 in my town of Barrington, Rhode Island. Local schools wanted theatre programs in an after-school setting and they knew I did the high school plays and was good with kids. That is how I started teaching. I taught all through college, graduate school, and throughout my career as a performer/writer/theatre artist, both in Providence, Rhode Island, and here in Los Angeles, I wrote and performed in my own plays and one-woman shows, did standup, performed in musical theatre, made some films and commercials, all the while teaching everything from voice to piano to theatre, dance, and parent-and-me music. I taught in the non-public schools and loved it, and got my California teaching credential while teaching 3rd grade at Garvanze Elementary in Highland Park and attending the District Intern Program with LAUSD. I got a business license in 1998 and ran my business part-time while teaching full-time and later going to school.
In 2002, my husband and I taught overseas in Venezuela, and had an amazing experience. When we returned, we decided I would go full-time with my teaching business and he would continue teaching in the public schools. I decided I really wanted to share my experience with women and children, especially in the public schools and in areas where people needed the arts most — after school child-care programs, students with special needs, children at risk. Building self-esteem and literacy through the arts was my mission. Aimee Art Productions was born.
Since then, I have become a Teaching Artist with the Music Center of Los Angeles, Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center, and Segerstrom Center for the Arts while growing my company and gaining more experience in the field. In 2003, I began to get more work than I could physically do, and a business coach suggested that I start to hire others. I began hiring friends and colleagues as Independent Contractors or Teaching Artists to go into the schools and families’ homes to offer lessons in all instruments and lessons of all kinds. Because of the cuts in the arts, many booster clubs, PTA’s and small parent groups were able to fundraise for small grassroots programs like ours, offering, for example, an 8-week after-school program for as little as $600. Parents saw that as an alternative to the full-time music teacher which the school could no longer afford. Aimee Art Productions found creative ways to fill this gap and work within reasonable budgets to make programs affordable for all.
Today, I have built up my business to offer programs in over 30 schools and 35 families’ homes in Los Angeles, with a team of over 40 Teaching Artists like myself in all disciplines of the arts: Theatre, Music, Dance, Visual Art and Interdisciplinary (Yoga, Puppetry, Playwriting, Cooking). We are in the field with our guitars on our backs and our music on our phones, ready to travel, teach and train! We have trained teachers, parents, and children of all ages. We just teamed up with Guitars in the Classroom with an LAUSD grant offering literacy through ukulele to TK and Kinder students in low-income schools, using rhyming words and pre-reading strategies.
I now have two children of my own, ages 8 and 12, and I see how important arts education is to human development and self-confidence, not to mention teamwork, self-discipline, culture, and JOY! I am passionate about arts and education, and I want to bring our programs to as many people as I can. I believe in my Teaching Artists and in the programs, we offer, because I have seen how they have transformed lives.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
One challenge has been learning to be a business owner, as I am an artist by nature and have no formal business training. I have had to learn about taxes, sole proprietorship, managing a budget, paying others and myself, running an office, interfacing with artists, teachers, administrators, and parents, writing contracts, writing grants, and many other less creative aspects of the arts.
Another challenge has been having to raise our rates or ask for funding when I really wish we could offer it for free!
However, I have always been very organized, and I have always been a self-starter, so these qualities helped me stay motivated and wiling to learn. I took classes at Santa Monica College Small Business Center (night classes, 1-time seminars) and hired a great bookkeeper and admin person, who keep the office running so that I can stay in the field teaching and facilitating new programs and artists.
Some days, it feels like a lot of work to have your own business! If you don’t bring home the bacon, no one does! But I am grateful I don’t have to work for anyone else or drive far to a corporate job that I don’t enjoy or care about. I get to do what I love every day, even when it feels hard.
Please tell us about Aimee Art Productions: Building Self-Esteem and Literacy Through the Arts.
Our mission is building self-esteem and literacy through the arts. We do it every day, in every way, for everyone. Our prices are honest, our Teaching Artists are highly trained in their fields and competent educators who are passionate about working with young people. We work with children of all ages, including parents and Parent-and-Me work. We make it fun, accessible, and creative.
We access all learning styles by assessing whether our students are kinesthetic (movement-based), auditory (listening-based), or visual (seeing-based). We see how they learn best and adjust our style to that, whether it’s teaching them their favorite song or writing a song with them. For group classes, we differentiate our teaching to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners. In classes like Dance and Theatre, peer mentoring occurs where older students help the younger ones. Our plays and performances are home-spun and full of life energy. They reflect the children who created it and the way they are feeling about their world.
Our classes always culminate with some type of performance, whether it’s an “open studio” where parents come in a create a tapestry of art with their child, cook a meal, learn yoga poses, or whether it’s a full-scale musical theatre production after 14 weeks of rehearsal with 30 children, costumes, lights and sound. The culminations always show off our students and share what they have learned. The emphasis is on the process, not the product, although the product is always super-cute and amazing.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
As a child, I was always trying to get the neighborhood children to put on plays. They thought were going to “play” but I would say, “No, we are going to DO a play.” I was always making costumes, directing them to be the Big Bad Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood. Later we had a babysitting club and mostly just performed plays in the park with the younger kids.
Our school had a field trip program which took us to plays at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island. I remember one field trip was to see the play, A Lie of the Mind by Sam Shepherd. I saw how brilliantly he constructed the story and characters and how they came to life. The acting was amazing. It blew my mind. I knew I had to be a part of that.
Later, I attended Trinity Rep Conservatory and got my Masters degree. I actually had some of those actors as my teachers. I knew I was in the right place because the Trinity program told us to go out and make our own work, not sit by the phone and wait for it to ring. Making art was a joy for me and it started in my childhood. I have always written plays and performed for family and friends. It is just who I am.
- $75-$100 per teaching hour in schools (flexible with back-to-back hours)
- $60 for private lessons, $50 for 45 min’s, $45 for 30 min’s
- 8 week programs for as low as $600
- Website: www.AimeeArtProductions.com
- Phone: 323-244-8886
- Email: AimeeArtProductions@gmail.com
– Golden Apple Winner, LAUSD District Intern Program 2002
– 1st Place National Association of Music Teachers Vocal Award
– Brown University Book Award for Written and Spoken English
– Henry Fonda Young Playwrights Award for Very Special Arts