Holiday Spirit

Ceramics teacher Amy Steinmann explains to students, James, Vineet and Adini, what to do with their clay during a class at Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View on Dec. 19, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Posted December 29, 2019

CSMA offers a beacon of arts in a tech world
Nonprofit stays true to its egalitarian roots of 'arts for all'

by Mark Noack

Back in the 1940s, Natalie Werbner was a young girl living in Boston who wanted to take music lessons. Her family had recently immigrated from Russia and didn't have much money, but there was still one option available to her. It was a settlement house, a progressive co-op school that offered arts and music instruction for anyone, rich or poor, immigrant or native-born.

As the Werbner later explained it, she never forgot how the school provided her an opportunity when all the other doors were closed. About 30 years later, that memory served as an inspiration to her when she was living in the Bay Area and helped launch the Mountain View Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA). It started rather modestly with outdoor classes held in the backyard of a rented house, but today the organization has expanded to teach over 30,000 students per year, making it the largest arts institution of its kind in the area.

"I thought that there should be schools like this all over the country," Werbner said in an interview earlier this year. "It's astounding how much the organization has grown. It's so important to pass the torch along."

CSMA is one of seven nonprofit organizations serving Mountain View residents that benefit from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund . Donations are divided equally among the nonprofits and are administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation at no cost, so 100% of contributions go to the recipients.

The music and arts school has come a long way over the last 50 years, but it has never strayed from its mission to teach the creative arts to those who otherwise wouldn't have that opportunity. While CSMA normally charges anywhere from $200 to $350 for classes, the faculty strongly promotes financial aid programs. Over the last year, the school granted $545,000 in scholarships and other aid, which CSMA administrators say is an unprecedented amount.

On a Thursday afternoon visit, the school's hub at the Finn Center off of San Antonio Road was a scene of activity as students zipped around for their after-school lessons. The corridors at the center were filled with the echoes of youngsters at drum lessons and choral recitals. For her ceramics class, arts teacher Amy Steinmann was teaching a group of elementary-school age students how to make holiday mugs with penguins and polar bears.

Each year the school offers more than 500 arts and music classes, most of which are geared toward adolescents. Over the years, CSMA has expanded its scope, teaching off-campus classes at tech companies and providing arts and music education to K-8 students in Santa Clara and San Mateo county public schools, including the Mountain View Whisman district.

CSMA is also making efforts to broaden the age range of its students. The directors point out they have more senior citizens participating than ever before. In fact, the school featured its first ever senior chorus this year, which included about 20 members, and also introduced its first music classes for babies as young as 3 months.

Looking out the window of the school's boardroom, CSMA executive director Vickie Scott Grove pointed to the nearby towers of new apartments that were sprouting up all around the Finn Center. Parents and their children have a rekindled interest in arts instruction, she said.

"With all this growth, there's been quite an increase in demand for our programs," Grove said. "Compare this to five years ago when it seemed like everyone only wanted to learn about math. Now it seems like the importance of the arts is coming back."

CSMA's facility is currently overwhelmed with more demand that it can handle. Starting next year, the school is planning a $5 million expansion that would replace a shuttered tire shop next door with a 3,200-square-foot annex.

Perhaps the best kept secret at CSMA is its free concert series, which regularly attracts a lineup of highly acclaimed performers. Earlier this month, the school hosted three-time Grammy winner John Daversa for a free performance of his latest jazz album. Next year, the school plans to host Taylor Eigsti, who has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and who was previously a student at CSMA. Eigisti's event will showcase his new "crowdsourced jazz composition" that he is creating with suggestions from Bay Area students. Last year, CSMA offered more than 30 free concerts and events.

Make a donation
2021 Recipient Agency

Community Health Awareness Council
CHAC serves Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and seven school districts. Among the services it offers are schoolbased counseling and programs to protect students from high-risk behaviors.

Community School of Music & Arts
The Community School of Music and Arts provides hands-on art and music education in the classrooms of the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Community Services Agency
CSA is the community's safety-net providing critical support services for low-income individuals and families, the homeless and seniors in northern Santa Clara County, including Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Day Worker Center of Mountain View
The Day Worker Center of Mountain View provides a secure place for workers and employers to negotiate wages and work conditions. It serves workers with job placements, English lessons, job skills workshops and guidance.

Mayview Community Health Center
The MayView Community Health Center in Mountain View offers primary care services to low-income and uninsured patients in northern Santa Clara County. No patient is turned away for inability to pay for services, which include prenatal and pediatric care, cancer screenings and chronic disease management.

Mentor Tutor Connection
Mentor Tutor Connection matches adult volunteers who serve either as mentors with under-served youth in high school or as tutors to students in elementary and middle schools in Mountain View and Los Altos school districts.

YWCA of Silicon Valley
This group operates a 24-hour bilingual hotline and a safe shelter for women and their children. It also offers counseling and other services for families dealing with domestic violence.

As of September 21st, 132 donors have contributed $71,561 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

46 Anonymous14,808
Robert J. Rohrbacher100
David E. Simon & Lynn Gordon1,000
The PS & KW Creger Family Trust 500
Catherine Howard*
Charlene Miyashita50
David L. Hatt250
Dr. Dana E. Backman100
Lisa Topping and Mark Buggy*
Kevin & Robin Duggan*
James and Marilyn Kelly*
Jim & Mia Whitfield*
Pamela Baird & Greg Unangst1,000
David Offen & Gail Nyhan*
Paul & Sarah Donahue2,000
Lawrence K. Wallace50
Mitch & Barb Topol50
Dan Pappas250
Karen & David Keefer100
Andy & Liz Coe100
Bruce & Twana Karney350
Norma Jean Bodey Galiher200
Thomas J. Mucha350
Laurie Bonilla & Ed Perry250
Ellen Wheeler50
Sara and Ricardo Jenez*
Peter Stahl and Janet Sloan1,000
Mark Flider250
Lyle & Sally Sechrest100
Ross S Heitkamp*
Sandra and Craig Peterson200
Ann McCarty*
Murray Family100
Max Beckman-Harned1,400
Sally Evans100
Karen Skold50
Steve Attinger500
Emily Arcolino3,000
Christopher and Mary Dateo1,000
Ed Taub and Sheri Gish108
Marilyn Gildea*
The Depenhart Family750
Laura and Dave Blakely100
Mary DeMasters*
Boris Burtin100
Judy Atterholt & Chris Petti*
Kelly Family1,000
Herta Schreiner & Miguel Garcia200
Wesley D. Smith*
Ann Kapoun200
Linda & Greg Kannall25
Anne Johnston*
Jim & Alice Cochran700
E. Denley Rafferty100
Bruce Heflinger1,000
Patricia & Roger Hayes50
Dolores N. Goodman500
Leslie C. and Anita N. Nichols*
Randy Tsuda & Julie McCullough*
Ross & Karen Heitkamp350
Reese and Kathleen Cutler*
Gary and Yuko Kushner*
Rudy & Debra Robinson 200
David D. Meir-Levi25
Tom & Barbara Lustig*
Elisabeth Seaman500
Cliff and Kara Chambers1,000
Jeral Poskey250
Jerry & Sherri Morrison 700
Judith A. Manton500
Kathleen & Serge Bonte200
Shirley K. Ingalls*
Jas Laskowski3,000
Margaret Chapman100
David Fung*
Leona K. Chu*
Jeff Segall & Helen He200
Kevin & Laurel Smith Charitable Fund3,000
In Memory Of

Jim & Sally Hayden-Myer210
Julie Lovins & Greg Fowler*
Mack & Laila Holombo*
In Honor Of

Edward, Petros & Thalia200
Ed, Petros and Thalia185
Businesses & Organizations

ebernsconsulting, llc150
Hewlett Foundation8,750
Packard Foundation8,000