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A Letter from the Leadership Academy

Posted on: May 13, 2021

One of the (many) reasons LA Opera has thrived for the past 35 years is because of our broad and diverse staff, and one of the ways we foster a rich and varied team is through the LA Opera Leadership Academy. 

This unique program gives high school students from communities underrepresented in the arts a six-year paid internship in the administration departments of LA Opera. During their time, students receive extensive career and college guidance all while learning the ins-and-outs of the opera industry. By the end of the program, they emerge with the tools to begin their own careers, taking with them a lifelong love of this art form and the opportunity to contribute their unique perspective and skills to the opera field.

One of our current Leadership Academy Interns, Abraham Flores, shared a letter reflecting on his time and experiences working at LA Opera. Hear what he has to say below. 

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A Letter to LA Opera:

The LA Opera Academy Internship program has continually provided me with opportunities to become a professional worker and a skilled leader. In addition to tangible skills, it has allowed me to develop many intangible skills that I wouldn’t learn anywhere else. For example, through putting up  posters and organizing closets, I have learned that there is no small task; without signs, the public doesn’t know where to go- without organized closets, valuable time is wasted looking for staplers! Watching my colleagues run meetings and workshops has been incredibly educational, as I learn the formidable skill of being a dually charismatic and efficient communicator. Additionally, by allotting time to learn and to be taught, I have been mentored by LA’s best industry professionals in one of the few internships where you are encouraged and provided with the tools and knowledge to grow.

Coming into the internship, I held the same belief throughout my Latino and first-generation communities that opera is old and distant. However, after joining the internship program, I quickly discovered how exciting and powerful opera could be, the systemic problem that kept me from seeing that, and  the incredible solutions that LA Opera has innovated. The true potential of an art form such as opera is often left untouched because getting the word out  and being able to connect with students like me is systemically made difficult by institutions like the outdated American education system. Consequently, at LA Opera, it’s not just about putting on great art; it’s about connecting the art with our community from that systemic level. Through helping put on programs like Elementary In-School Opera, Opera Prep, and Opera for Educators, I have discovered that in addition to providing entertainment, we are revolutionizing the way students learn and the way lessons are taught in the classroom, while breaking down the barriers that kept students like me away from opera in the first place.

In addition to learning that there is no small task and about the inequities present in our education system, here are a few more things I didn’t expect to learn through this internship:

  • My voice and perspective are vital; there’s no such thing as “just an intern.”
    • My first hour in this job, I was in the room with the cast and crew of the upcoming opera, and everyone was introducing themselves. Dually starstruck and mind-blown, when it came to me, I stood up and said, “Hi, I’m Abraham Flores, and I’m just an intern.” Little did I know that as “just” an intern I would be able to make contracts for artists, talk with the CEO directly about management philosophies, and even pitch ideas for an LA Opera web series! I have come to learn that I am not “just an intern” here; my voice and perspective is valuable, and many times over, my seemingly minor revisions on a paper or seemingly small ideas for the company end up having significant impacts!
  • Access and knowledge to advanced technology are revolutionary.
    • In this generation, every student my age knows about Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, etc. However, for most people, it doesn’t get past opening the document, typing, and exporting. Through this internship, I was able to go beyond using it as a basic tool to now relying on it even to organize and plan facets of my own life! Additionally, the week after my colleague, Adam  L, taught me about it all, I was able to use it as an infrastructure advancement in my school, transitioning from paper-based club applications to digital applications, which has proven extremely valuable to my school community over the pandemic.

This  program’s impact on my life goes beyond me; it spreads into every facet of my community. In my community theatre, I have utilized my marketing  and website-building training to create an online presence on the LA Opera structure. At home, I have been able to begin to save up for college and pay my own expenses, lightening the load off my family’s already tight budget. At school, I have been able to translate what I learn from the hands-on arts  management training through creating student advocacy positions in the student government. Additionally, seeing a colleague be promoted and having someone new come in and immediately be able to transition smoothly introduced me to the idea of having transition systems in place. I have now preached these kinds of systems to my entire school community and once I leave, not only am I sure that these systems will allow my personal impact on the school to be long-lasting, but it will also allow for yearly growth.

The recent expansion of the Russell Thomas Youth Artist Training Academy and the LA Opera Tech Academy is so exciting to me. “This is the way it should be!” are my initial thoughts, followed by a proud smile that I get to see this change happen and contribute to the way it is implemented. I have many gripes with the American education system, so seeing programs like this that operate in the hands-on, cohort-based, dynamic education model while being geared towards historically under-resourced people like me is INCREDIBLE. Furthermore, this pioneering spirit from LA Opera is sure to extend into the lives of the students that these programs affect, as they will be prepared with the tools and mindset to become pioneers in their industries!

This program is incredible because even through COVID, it remains innovative, enriching, and most of all joy-inducing. As I look forward to the next four years, I hope to continue quenching my curiosity in unexplored departments, and I hope to continue this revolutionary program that though titled “Academy,” I call “family.”

Abraham Flores
LA Opera Academy Intern | Connects Department

If you want to learn more about the Leadership Academy, click here.

The LA Opera Academy is made possible by an Opera America Innovation Grant, supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.