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Meet Manuel Prieto of LAMusArt (Los Angeles Music and Art School) in East Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Manuel Prieto.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Manuel. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a border town, at the height of the U.S.installing border fences that have only grown taller and longer—separating everything along its way, including natural resources, cultural sites, people’s homes and families. What some see as a means of protection, to us border folk, we see a complex gateway to a shared past, present, and future. But it was through the arts, that my community defined itself. Only through customs, and ingenuity and creativity were we able to define or identity, and I became fascinated by how we preserved both identities.

Fast forward to my formal undergraduate and graduate education in Los Angeles, I found myself involved with LAMusArt, an organization striving to engage youth through an amalgamation of creative programs rooted in creativity, but carving out a safe space for the immigrant and ever-changing community of East Los Angeles.

I was appointed as Deputy Director of LAMusArt in 2014. An achievement for a young professional of color. In my new role, I organized and implemented a junior advisory board to increase support and funding for LAMusArt programs. The Young Professionals Advisory Board (YPAB) boasts 17 active members from Los Angeles County, who each bring distinct professional backgrounds and experiences as advocates of the school.

In 2015, at age 25, I was named Executive Director after the current director retired after 18 years of service. The organization serves 600+ unduplicated students each year and provides over 25,000 affordable and tuition-free lessons each year in music, art, dance and drama. As I close my fifth year as the head of the organization, not only do I get to celebrate the organization’s 75 years history, but look back on the achievements of many, and look towards a challenging year full of opportunities.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Given data and demographic trends, a lack of diversity in the cultural sector has been a huge barrier and issue– not only in obtaining a leadership role but in finding other leaders of color to build a strong support network.

While the US Census Bureau predicts that by 2042 people of color will become the majority, and whites will become the minority (Americans for the Arts 2013) one thing is certain: diversity will increasingly characterize the population, and organizations and funders must take action now, to implement change and shift traditional grant-making and influence to impact not the largest organizations with the most status quo practices, but small and mid-sized organizations that have always had DEI at its core of its mission, and not something they are now seeking to rectify.

Please tell us about LAMusArt (Los Angeles Music and Art School).
We are a non-profit celebrating 75 years of serving East Los Angeles and beyond. We are a BIPOC- led organization where we seek to learn, share and affirm the distinct histories of BIPOC communities; and unlearn dominant narratives.

Why We Exist
On the surface, our services provide opportunities for students to receive an arts education, but on a deeper level, our programs provide an outlet for creative expression, an alternative to involvement in high-risk behavior, a safe place to develop skills and confidence, and a means to a successful future.

We believe affordable and accessible art education programs work to benefit the students and the community by expanding one’s world outlook, sharpening one’s creative skills, and contributing to one’s social, behavioral, and academic development.

What We Do
LAMusArt provides affordable, multidisciplinary and sequential arts instruction in music, visual art, dance, and drama during non-school hours to predominantly K-12 students residing in the greater East Los Angeles area. We offer tuition-subsidized and tuition-free lessons, as well as private and group lessons. Programming is offered Mondays through Thursdays from 2pm-8pm and on Saturdays from 8am-6pm in our 11,000 square foot facility that features 20 classrooms, four multi-purpose rooms, and a recording studio.

Arts education programs are often the first to be cut when public school funding is limited, leaving many students without equal access to an arts education. Although engagement in the arts alone cannot be an indicating factor of the future success of students, studies have shown that immersion in creative arts programs can enhance aspects of students’ overall personal, academic, and professional lives (Arts Education Partnership). We provide the opportunities and resources needed to supplement a full and successful life of artistic engagement.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
People may think that the arts are not for them, but at LAMusArt, we want to ensure that at least people have some form of engagement with the arts. Audience members and supporters are sometimes even more important than the artists themselves. We need to create a culture of supporting the arts and understand that the arts should and are not just for the elite– everyone belongs, and the arts are for everyone.


  • Free Music Ensembles (Choir, Jazz, Mariachi, Strings, Youth Orchestra
  • Subsidized Private Instrument Lessons (As low as $24/class)
  • Subsidized Group Instruction in Art, Dance and Drama (As low as $14/class)

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