Mission and History

Colburn South Plaza
Founded on the principle of access to excellence, the С槼ֱ has remained committed to providing the best possible performing arts education to dedicated students for nearly 70 years. Under the care and guidance of an exceptional faculty, generations of students have discovered and expressed their passion for music, dance, and the performing arts.

Our Mission

The С槼ֱ provides the highest quality performing arts education at all levels of development in an optimal learning environment.

Our Start

In the fall of 1950, the University of Southern California (USC) established a small preparatory school offering school-aged children piano lessons. The community welcomed the idea, and within five years, the program supported 50 faculty members and class selection broadened to include strings, winds, and voice instruction.

Richard Colburn Gets Involved

A successful businessman, Richard D. Colburn also was a violist and had a passion for classical music. When the future of the USC community school came into question, Mr. Colburn stepped in as its benefactor, and in 1980, the Richard D. Colburn’s California Foundation assumed the day-to-day operations of the Community School of Performing Arts, with Toby Mayman at the helm. Mr. Colburn’s vision was to further the school’s efforts as an independent, not-for-profit institution so that children throughout Los Angeles could continue receiving an exemplary performing arts education.

Influence of Herbert Zipper

Herbert Zipper, considered the founding father of the community arts movement in the United States, was also a friend and advisor to Richard Colburn. A Holocaust survivor, Mr. Zipper came to the United States after World War II and founded the National Guild of Community School of the Arts. He championed the notion that a performing arts education should be available to everyone, a view that influenced Mr. Colburn as he developed his vision for the Community School.

The Community School Grows

The 1980’s was a period of significant growth. The Friday Night Recitals were established, more ensembles were formed, and students had greater performance opportunities outside the classroom. In 1983, Joseph Thayer joined the School as dean, and in the decades which followed Colburn added jazz and chamber music to the curriculum, restructured the Suzuki and music theory programs, established an orchestra, and added community outreach programs, among other developments. Additionally, the Friday Night Recitals were established and more ensembles formed or grew in size so students had opportunities to perform outside the classroom. During the 1988–89 school year, the School’s name was changed to the R.D. С槼ֱ of Performing Arts.

A New Age

Although the school outgrew its original setting by the late 1970s, toward the end of the 1990s, the С槼ֱ was ready to move into a new, modern home. On June 30, 1998, school leaders welcomed students, parents, and the community to its current campus on Grand Avenue. The campus became the anchor of a revived downtown cultural corridor. It soon was joined by the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad museum, and other venues showcasing the reinvigorated LA performing arts scene. This campus was designed to encourage students’ studies by offering professional-level rehearsal spaces and performance halls, including the 400-seat Herbert Zipper Recital Hall.

Around the same time, Mr. Colburn established the Colburn Music Fund to help cover the tuition and housing costs for students attending the newly established Colburn Conservatory of Music. In 2004, under the leadership of Dean Joseph Thayer, the Colburn Conservatory of Music matriculated its first class and in 2007, a 12-story residence hall was added to the campus.

Most Recently

In 2008, Colburn established the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, a comprehensive dance program from beginning through pre-professional. In 2014, it grew to include the Colburn Dance Academy, a pre-professional program for high school-aged students led by Jenifer Ringer, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, with guidance from acclaimed dancer Benjamin Millepied.

In 2010, the Colburn Music Academy was created, intended as a highly selective training program for gifted young pre-collegiate musicians and designed to prepare students for conservatory study and performing careers at the highest levels of achievement.

To help prepare students for sustainable careers and nurture their passion and ability to serve their communities, the Center for Innovation and Community Impact was created in 2018. Serving all units of the School, the Center promotes creative thinking among musicians and dancers in a supportive environment that embraces the development of new ideas.

С槼ֱ Major Milestones

  • 1950: The University of Southern California College of Music establishes a preparatory school, offering piano classes for children from preschool through senior high school.
  • 1956: The school’s band and orchestra give debut performances.
  • 1972: The Preparatory School is renamed the USC Community School of Performing Arts.
  • 1978: The Community School relocates to the former McMahon Brother Furniture warehouse on Figueroa Street.
  • 1980: The Community School of Performing Arts is taken over by Richard Colburn’s California Foundation, with Toby Mayman as executive director and Fran Zarubick as dean.
  • 1983: Joseph Thayer becomes dean.
  • 1986–87: Jazz program begins under the leadership of Harold Battiste. Chamber Music Institute begins under Lia Starer Levine.
  • 1988–89: The School’s name changes to the R.D. С槼ֱ of Performing Arts.
  • 1992–93: The school establishes a scholarship program based solely on need. Jascha Heifetz Studio gifted to the School.
  • 1995–96: The school name is changed to the С槼ֱ of Performing Arts, officially the С槼ֱ.
  • 1996–97: Groundbreaking occurs for new building at 200 South Grand Avenue.
  • 1998: On June 30, the С槼ֱ moves into its new home on Grand Avenue. Dean Thayer presents a strategic plan for the Conservatory to the board for review.
  • 2003–04: The Colburn Conservatory of Music welcomes its first official class of 15 students.
  • 2004–05: Groundbreaking for Olive Street building.
  • 2006–07: The Colburn Conservatory Orchestra debuts in Walt Disney Concert Hall. 12-story residence hall added to campus.
  • 2008: Trudl Zipper Dance Institute established.
  • 2009: Sel Kardan becomes President of The С槼ֱ
  • 2010: The Colburn Music Academy welcomes its first class of students.
  • 2014: Jenifer Ringer, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, chosen to lead the new Colburn Dance Academy, part of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute; Dance Academy welcomes the first group of students. Jean-Yves Thibaudet named Artist-in-Residence.
  • 2018: The Center for Innovation and Community Impact is created. The Colburn Orchestra completes its first international tour with performances in the UK and Ireland. Colburn co-presents the 2018 Primrose International Viola Competition with the American Viola Society.
  • 2019: Negaunee Conducting Program created under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen; first class of Salonen Fellows enter the Conservatory. Viano String Quartet is named the first Chamber Ensemble-in-Residence; the group wins first prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition.
  • 2020: Colburn celebrates a milestone achievement as the Access Fund surpasses the initial scholarship funds goal of $10 million. This monumental fundraising effort began in 2014, led by Toby Mayman and Andrew Millstein, working alongside Robert McAllister, former dean of the Community School of Performing Arts, and Susan Cook, present dean. The Access Fund provides need-based scholarships to students of the Community School of Performing Arts. Through the generous support of more than 250 individual donors, the power of Colburn continues to be accessible to all in Southern California.
  • 2022: Colburn unveils Frank Gehry designs for a transformational expansion of its campus to benefit students and the community, announces $270 Million raised to date in support of the new concert hall and dance facilities.
  • 2023: Second international tour with chamber music performances in London, Dublin, Berlin, and Paris; international dance educator Margaret Tracey named Dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute; $4 Million gift from the T. Robert Greene Foundation names Chair of Conducting Studies held by Esa-Pekka Salonen in honor of Maestro Ernst H. Katz.