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Latin American culture is brought to life in annual music, dance series in Santa Barbara County

The Viva el Arte program being Latin American music, and dance into some Santa Barbara County classrooms, and community centers. It's just kicked off its 17th season.
The Viva el Arte program bringing Latin American music, and dance into some Santa Barbara County classrooms, and community centers. It's just kicked off its 17th season.

UC Santa Barbara's Arts and Lectures teams up with community organizations to offer events connecting the region's Spanish speakers with their roots.

Some students at a Santa Barbara elementary school are warming up for a music class they’ll never forget.

Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Perla Batalla is at Franklin Elementary School with her band to teach the kids a little about music, enough that they can do a song or two together.

It’s part of Viva el Arte de Santa Barbara, a nearly two decade old program which involves UC Santa Barbara, and some organizations in Santa Barbara County. Musicians and dancers do programs in schools, and then free community performances focused on Spanish speaking culture.

"Viva el Arte is a program that's a partnership between UC Santa Barbara's Arts and Lectures, Isla Vista Elementary, Guadalupe, and the Marjorie Luke Theater in Santa Barbara," said Alicia Ruvalcaba, who is the Viva el Arte coordinator with the Marjorie Luke Theater.

The program bring Spanish-speaking artists from around the world to the county for a series of free performances and workshops.

The fourth graders are given wooden sticks which are sort of like drumsticks, and their job is to hit them together, to provide percussion for the songs.

Jacob Velasquez is one one of the students. "They're telling us the beat, and we have to copy the's a little hard."

"This program is's a great collaboration," said
Xochit Tafoya, who is Franklin Elementary’s Vice Principal.

The kids are caught up in making music. As they take part, Batalla and her band will stop periodically, to help the students understand what’s behind the music they are all making.

Batalla says it’s amazing to see how the kids respond.

"This is where my heart is," said Batalla. "Viva el Arte does all this beautiful programming for underserved communities. These kids, these Latino kids, at home they are speaking Spanish, at school they speak English, and here, at a lot of schools in Santa Barbara they get to speak both languages. For me, it's my mission to spread the word about how beautiful Spanish is."

She loves the idea that the program helps connect the kids, and the community with their roots.

This is the first of five Viva el Arte season events. The next one features what’s called America’s premiere Mexican folk dance company, Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles.

The company will do some school visits, followed by free public performance in Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, and Guadalupe in mid-October.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.