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Meet Raquel Beltran and Ernesto Molina of Asociacion Cultural Los Angeles and Mariachi Academy of Carson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Raquel Beltran and Ernesto Molina.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
The Asociacion Cultural began in as a volunteer organization of people hoping to create a cultural enrichment program for children in the community. We settled on creating a Mariachi program. At first, we envisioned starting carefully and slowly with a small group and with the thought of evaluating the program’s value and interest after one year’s time. That was 18 years ago. We assessed the availability of Mariachi programs in the area and learned most programs were located in the San Fernando Valley, Anaheim, or East Los Angeles City or County. There were a few programs sprinkled around, but nothing consistent. We presented the idea to the Carson City Council as a public-private partnership and continue to function as such. “Mirando al Futuro, Hoy,” created by charter board president, Joe Martinez, is the slogan for what evolved into the Mariachi Academy of Carson. We have served over 1,500 students ages 5 -18 over the years and performed for thousands throughout Southern California. We are blessed to have a competent and passionate music director in internationally renowned, Ernesto Molina creator of Mariachi Estrella de Jalisco. Classes are offered at the Carson Community Center and enrollment includes students from throughout the region. Our program is so successful that we have been asked to open academies in other cities. Our service delivery model is unique and mobile and we are anxious to do just that. Imagine a string of locally-based Mariachi academies! This is our dream.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There is only one thing that keeps the Academy operating each year. Love for the children. We have no paid staff, and all of our funding goes directly to instructional related expenses. We have close to $100k of in-kind contributions and operate the program from our homes.

Sustaining a program of this kind is arduous work. Fundraising is difficult because music instruction is, by nature, expensive. We have been blessed with dedicated corporate funders like Watson Land Company who have supported the Academy since the beginning.

However, we were, and continue to be, challenged to convey the full benefit to these amazing children and families. It is additionally challenging to express the importance of preserving and promoting this musical expression. Although Mariachi’s roots date back to the 18th Century, it is today a phenomenally popular genre throughout the world. We have a terrific partner in Ernesto Molina and his team of instructors from his Mariachi Estrella de Jalisco. “They know how to use Mariachi to feed the souls of these children.” We have had children who are challenged academically, emotionally, have disabilities, and the teachers transform them into stars.

Please tell us about Asociacion Cultural Los Angeles/Mariachi Academy of Carson.
The Academy operates on an eleven-month cycle. The cycle begins in August and runs through June. Classes are offered on Wednesdays 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Carson Community Center in four separate rooms (one for each instrument type and one for the voice lessons). The curriculum is not limited by the age of students or skill level. Although we have found children seven years of age and older derive the most benefit, we have experienced an increase in the number of younger aged students (5-6 years) wishing to learn mariachi.

We offer beginning, intermediate, and advanced level classes thereby promoting healthy skill development of the children. On average, it takes one year for the students to develop the proficiency to advance from beginning to intermediate students. It takes, on average, two years as an intermediate student to develop the proficiency to become advanced students. Continuity of programming is pivotal, and we are proud to have been successful in our efforts to keep the doors open. We are also proud of the new Mariachis that our graduating students have created. 

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
The program costs only $50 per month per student but has a value of over $1,000. Students receive Mariachi trajes and instruments on loan when they begin the program, subject to availability form our traje and instrument loan program. We have a popular sliding fee scale to help make the program more affordable for families of multiple children, e.g., $70 for families with 3 or more children. If we had the opportunity to start the program over again, I would have started by raising sufficient revenue to provide transportation to our facility. It is really hard for working parents to get their children to the facility, but we don’t have the funds to offer a different schedule.

Additionally, we would like to find a program to partner with by providing healthy snacks for the children. They are so hungry when they arrive. I didn’t realize how much effort would be involved administering the program. We would you have structured the program with on-sight administrative support from the onset.

We have much for which to be thankful.  We have committed parents, supportive communities, dedicated teachers and donors, and eager children waiting to be for an opportunity to show their greatness.  Looking back, it feels real good.

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Castro Studios

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