Oakland's new art school opens

January 6, 2009 7:30:18 PM PST
It was an exciting day in Oakland. The multi-million-dollar Oakland School for the Arts is a charter school founded by former Mayor Jerry Brown. They moved into their new digs on Tuesday.

There is reason to celebrate. After six years in portable buildings, the 411 middle and high school students at the Oakland school for the arts moved into a spanking new state of the art facility. They now have 59,000 square feet in which to be creative.

"If I weren't here, I don't know where I would be because this is just the place for me to dance. In my heart it's what I love," said Jalen Preston, a student.

The Oakland School for the Arts was founded in 2002 by then-Mayor Jerry Brown as part of his push to revitalize downtown. And Brown pulled out all the stops.

He made a deal to allow a billboard at the eastern base of the Bay Bridge in exchange for millions of dollars for the charter school. And he personally wooed the schools director away from the San Francisco School of the Arts.

"We stole him from San Francisco fair and square because maybe San Francisco has something to learn from Oakland now," said Jerry Brown (D), the California Attorney General.

Brown was on hand Tuesday afternoon to applaud the new venue. He says in these tough times America needs to nurture the artistic spirit.

"Whether it's financial or social, there's all sorts of problems and we need innovation and we need creativity," said Brown.

The tuition is free, but the students have to audition to get in and they must meet high academic standards.

"The academics are extremely strong, with API scores of 750. With the state testing on a scale of 200 to 1000, 750 is considered a strong score. We have a ways to go but we have a great academic program here," said Donn Harris, the executive director of Oakland School for the Arts.

The school is located in the old Fox Theater which is undergoing a $76 million renovation. Soon the students will be able to take their performances out of the classroom and onto the stage.

So the school's new campus is now complete. The historic Fox Theater itself will reopen with a gala celebration next month.