We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Louis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen, why did you pursue a creative career?
I have known I would pursue a creative career since I was a young kid. I wanted to be a storyteller. I made my parents promise that I could be on Romper Room when I turned five(spoiler alert-it didn’t happen). There was no stage that was safe from me jumping on to perform-something. This was the late 70’s into the early ’80’s, so there was plenty of inspiration from which to draw. I loved Adam and the Ants, Blondie, Pate Benetar and Cyndi Lauper. My best friend and I would spend hours creating dances and costumes to put up shows. Through all of this, I was learning to read and write, and then apply what I was learning to these backyard and living room shows. I remember in 5th grade, I was so honored to be invited to perform in the 6th grade’s showcase of We Are the World, singing Cyndi Lauper’s part. I worked on it feverishly. My costume was perfect: I pinned 2 Little Orphan Annie Wigs to one side of my head, put on 8 skirts, lots of beads, striped socks and sang to the rafters of the school cafeteria, “Woah,woah, woah, woooaaah!” It was fun, sure, but there was much more to it.
As a teenager, my interests deepened in music, theatre and the arts. Thank goodness for this, because as exuberant a child I was, I was equally as surly as a teen. The arts, particularly theatre and music, very truly saved my life and provided direction during a critical point in my personal development. In general, I was in a place where many teens can find themselves: jaded, frustrated, uncertain and aggressively depressed. Thank goodness the school system had the arts built into the curriculum throughout my entire public school education. I was able to take painting classes to learn perspective and variation, theatre to continue the exploration into telling story and give voice and impact to voices and times that may be overlooked or completely unseen. I could spend my lunches in the choir room with friends playing improv games or sneaking off to a practice room to belt Sinead O’Connor in peace and solitude. I had space to sit and write. I didn’t know at the time what a gift that was. It just was. I was able to take my anger/sadness/aggression/
I didn’t really recognize the enormity of that tool until I left Ohio for NYC and saw- first hand- the social justice implications of withholding the arts from the curriculum of the public school system. I spent two decades as a teaching artist in NYC and Chicago bringing arts programs (mainly theatre and music) to schools in underserved neighborhoods. I had the honor and privilege to have these students trust me enough to share their remarkable stories, imagination, skills and talents. Bringing outreach programs in wasn’t the answer, but it was an opportunity for all of us to grow, explore and tell our stories in a multitude of ways. That’s the greatest thing about theatre: everyone has a job, and we all do it together as an ensemble. As a community. We all share our strengths to build our power of perspective. So now, decades later, I still consider myself an artist, and I have learned how to be an administrator. The greatest piece of all of this is that I am able to call Neighborhood Music School in Boyle Heights my shared artistic home, and ensure the connections, artistic platform, guidance and mentorship that grows here is available to all who need and want to pursue it. During the pandemic, we have (temporarily)closed our doors and opened our classes to an online format. While the (temporary)closure has been so hard, the opportunity to take away the barrier of distance to receive musical mentorship and share the unique and transformative journey through music is what our mission and our community is all about.
What should our readers know about your business?
Neighborhood Music School believes that lives change through music. Founded in 1914 as a Settlement House to serve the immigrant communities who had settled in Boyle Heights, we provide low-cost-high quality one-on-one music instruction to those who need it most. Located in a charming Victorian house in Boyle Heights, we are proud to serve as a community anchor, a bridge to cultural exchange and opportunity, and an usher to the mentorship between teacher and students that is integral in music and in life.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would take them on a tour of Boyle Heights! we would meet up for coffee at Capuyo Cafe, Come over to Neighborhood Music School for a Concert in the Parlor, curated and featuring the musical journey of NMS teaching artists. From there, we’d head to Casa Fina for a delicious dinner (and a few margaritas, of course), and then head to CASA0101 for a night of original and thought provoking theatre. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Neighborhood Music School in Boyle Heights
Youtube: Neighborhood Music School – Boyle Heights