The 25th Herb Alpert Award in the Arts is on May 13th in New York City. To honor the 125 Winners of the award who received $75,000 each from the Herb Alpert Foundation.
Ang Santos: The Herb Alpert Foundation has been supporting organizations that promote the arts for a few decades. Particularly in education arenas. What prompted you to take such action?
Herb Alpert: I had this opportunity when I was 8 years old in my grammar school here in Los Angeles. There was a music class. It wasn’t called music appreciation; it was just a music class that had a table filled with instruments. Trombones, saxophones, tuba, flute, clarinets and there was a trumpet there. I picked up the trumpet and it just kind of felt right in my hand. I couldn’t make a sound out of it. I thought you just blew hot air into it. Obviously, you have to buzz into the mouthpiece. When I finally did make a sound, the instrument was talking for me. I’m basically an introvert and as a kid I was pretty mute. This trumpet was saying the things that I couldn’t get out of my mouth. It’s been a tremendous friend of mine and has taken me to some really interesting places through the years. I feel that kids should have this opportunity at an early age. Not necessarily to play the trumpet or a musical instrument, but dance, poetry, sculpting, painting. It doesn’t really matter. As long as they get their creative juices out. I think it’s a big win because you learn discipline doing that and it folds right over into academics. If you get pretty good at it, you start realizing ‘this is kind of fun for me and I appreciate my own uniqueness because I’m a little different from everyone else that’s doing the same thing.’ So, if they can get into their own uniqueness, they can appreciate the uniqueness in others.
AS: Recently the Foundation announced a major revitalization project in New York City, at the Harlem School of the Arts, but your partnership with them goes a few years back?
HA: It started in 2010. I saw an article in the New York Times that the school was getting ready to close. I had a knee jerk reaction to that. I said, ‘wow how could they do that. It’s such an amazing community and so many great artists came out of there.’ It just didn’t seem like that should happen. So, I got involved and we saved them actually is really what it amounts to. We had some changes in the structure and little by little it’s turned into a magnificent place where hundreds of kids are spending quality time learning instruments, dancing, and doing all sorts of things. It gives me great pleasure to be able to be a part of it.
AS: This recent investment, it’s $9.5 million from the Herb Alpert Foundation, it’s called the Renaissance Project. What is this going to do?
HA: It’s going to change the place. It was designed forty-five years ago. We wanted to update it. Architecturally it’s going to be cutting edge with an acoustical design that’s worthy of the school’s great history. I’m excited about it because I like it when kids walk into an environment and feel creative. I want them to feel like they’re in a space that’s special for them. I guess I’d be designing it for me. I never had an opportunity to go to an arts center or a school that zeroed in on the arts. I’m keen on helping others to have that experience.
AS: I can’t help but think, in making another large investment towards the Harlem School of the Arts, they must have proven the difference they make in New York City?
HA: Right, but how do you quantify that? How can you really say the effect that the arts are having? I’m just going on my own gut feeling. Our politicians don’t seem to get what art is all about. The beauty part for me is that there’s a big mystery in art that you can’t really identify. What is that thing that makes you stop when you hear a great song or somebody in the movies that gives you the chill bumps. Maybe something that’s being said that does that. The thing that I love the most is that arts is a discipline. It’s about freedom of expression, freedom of imagination, and truth telling. The truth telling aspect is more important now than ever. We need a lot of that truth telling.
AS: Are there any other big projects or announcements on the horizon for the Herb Alpert Foundation?
HA: We supported ninety-two different organizations last year. One that got a tremendous reaction with the Herb Alpert Foundation since the early 80’s in addition to that Harlem school donation was giving money to a community college in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community College. Through that donation, it enabled people that aren’t able to go to college for one reason or another, they’re living in a terrible situation where they don’t even have the funds to get on a bus to go to school, we gave them that opportunity. They get to study at a two-year community college and if they put in the work, do what they have to do, they can transition to a university. It’s opened the door for people. Everyone wants the same thing in life. We’re all looking for a life with meaning and purpose. These people sometimes just need a little helping hand. It’s not a sexy donation. People that have money usually go for the Yale, Harvard’s, and UCLA’s of the world. This was a different type of situation. I feel it is important to do and I hope people get on to the same idea.
AS: Why is this Foundation important?
HA: It’s important because I get a change to help other people. I’ve been successful beyond my dreams. I didn’t want to put a Van Gogh or a Monet on my wall and walk around saying look what I did. I’d rather see if I can help others. I had that opportunity in grammar school that changed my life. It gives me great pleasure to be able to do it. It might sound super corny, but I get chill bumps from helping others, it’s great.