top of page

ARTS FOR LIFE: Connecting Local Students to the Performing Arts

By Sarah Teran

Photos by Monique Kuhlman

For Corinne Garthoff, this is one of her busiest weeks of the year.

Corinne is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Arts For Life program at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center. And it’s Classroom Connections week. “Talk soon. I’m at Los Cerritos [Elementary] waiting for 3rd and 4th graders to see our artist, Julia Keefe Quartet,” says her email.

Corinne has spent the week bouncing between five elementary schools to oversee assemblies that give students up-close access to arts education and performances. By the end of the week, she and the performing artists will have visited 1000 students.

Classroom Connections

Classroom Connections is one of three branches of the Arts For Life program, and it brings the performing arts to local elementary school students, many of whom have never been exposed to them. After a week of educational assemblies at school, the program culminates in a field trip to the Carpenter Center for a live performance. 

“I love the community aspect of this program. The students have so much energy, and the teachers are always so grateful. It’s the first time for a lot of these students to come to a performing arts center, or it’s the first time they’re even on [CSULB] campus. The more we get those students on campus before college age, the more it becomes real for them, and they visualize themselves being here,” says Corinne.

Arts For Life

Classroom Connections was founded in 1998 by Peter Lesnik, then-Executive Director of the Carpenter Center. In 2013, the program was renamed Arts For Life and was expanded to include Campus Connections for CSULB students and Community Connections for the whole community.

Mr. Lesnik’s main requirement for the program was simple: artists had to be a reflection of Long Beach. Corinne says that Mr. Lesnik’s philosophy is still at the heart of the program.

“Our artists reflect the culture and diversity of Long Beach. They should represent who our students are so they can see themselves in the performances.”

Current Carpenter Center Executive Director Megan Cline Crockett travels to performing arts conventions around the country, where she selects artists in varying forms of dance and music that speak to the local Long Beach culture. Artists in the Arts For Life program must include an educational component for students to gain knowledge in addition to being exposed to the art form. 

Artists generally participate in all branches of the Arts For Life program. For Campus Connections, educational presentations, workshops, and performances are incorporated into CSULB courses. For Community Connections, performances are held in the Carpenter Center for free or low-cost to the general public. These performances are popular, and tickets go quickly!

Some artists are “regulars” to Arts For Life and return every couple of years, including Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles and Versa-Style Dance Company. Julia Keefe Quartet is participating for their first year, and they may return in a future year.

A Live Performance For The Students!

It’s now Friday of Classroom Connections week. Corinne, with the help of front of house staff, ushers, volunteers, and an expert production team, welcomes students into the Carpenter Center for a live performance by Julia Keefe Quartet. This is a full-scale professional production–just like the other world-class performances we are used to seeing at the Carpenter Center. And the students love it! 

“There’s nothing like hearing 1000 students clapping and going crazy for jazz,” says Corinne.

Pulling off Classroom Connections and Arts For Life is a huge accomplishment, but Corinne is already getting back to work preparing for Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles in March. 

It’s a big task, but the joy of working with students, the excitement of being on a college campus, and a deep love for the community motivate Corinne to bring the Arts For Life program back for an encore. 

How Can My School Participate in Classroom Connections? 

“Teachers, PTAs, or even parents can apply on behalf of their school. It’s a popular program and spots go fast, but there are occasional cancellations. The key is just to apply,” says Corinne.

The Arts For Life team is currently putting together next year’s programming, and it should be finalized and announced on the program website sometime in May.

To learn more about Arts For Life, visit:

To apply to Classroom Connections for your school, visit:


Classroom Connections reaches 3000 local elementary students per year! And with your generous support to cover the cost of bussing, Title I schools are better able to participate! Sometimes, the trip to the Carpenter Center is their only field trip of the year.

To contribute to Arts For Life to bring the performing arts to more of our local elementary school students, 



bottom of page