Mission and History

Since our beginnings more than 60 years ago, everyone associated with the Colburn School has remained steadfast in its commitment to helping generations of students discover and express their passion for music, dance, and the performing arts. It’s a philosophy that continues to be embraced by all of us today.

Our Mission

The Colburn School 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. By 1956, there was enough participation to organize both a student concert band and orchestra.

Richard Colburn Gets Involved

As the years passed, the school’s reputation for premier performing arts education continued to attract support, including the attention of Richard D. Colburn. A successful businessman, Mr. Colburn also was a violist and had a passion for classical music. Not only did he lend his enthusiasm, but Mr. Colburn became a prominent supporter. In fact, when USC wished to divest itself from the school by the late 1970s, he stepped in as its benefactor.

In 1980, the Richard D. Colburn’s California Foundation assumed the day-to-day operations of the Community School of Performing Arts so that children throughout Los Angeles could continue receiving exemplary performing arts education. Mr. Colburn’s vision was to further the school’s efforts as an independent, not-for-profit institution.

Herbert Zipper Adds His Support

For years, Mr. Colburn relied on the advice of fellow philanthropist Herbert Zipper. Even before joining forces with Colburn, Mr. Zipper sponsored several endeavors to promote the arts. 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. When Mr. Colburn took over operations of the community school, he invited Mr. Zipper to become the institution’s artistic advisor, a role he held until his death in 1997.

The Community School Becomes R.D. Colburn School of Performing Arts

The mid to late 1980s were an exciting time for us. Interest in our classes grew so much that the heightened demand led to an expansion of curriculum. While our core focus of classical music remained essential, faculty added classes in jazz and chamber music. Additionally, more ensembles formed or grew in size so students had opportunities to perform outside the classroom. Our esteemed faculty also began offering early childhood courses so even the youngest of children could begin exploring the wonders of music.

A New Age

Although the school outgrew its original setting by the late 1970s, toward the end of the 1990s, the Colburn School 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. As it turns out, the Colburn School 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.

The new campus was designed to encourage students’ studies, including rehearsal spaces and beautiful performance halls, including the 400-seat Herbert Zipper Recital Hall.

Around the same time, Mr. Colburn established the Colburn Music Fund. One of its primary objectives was to cover the tuition and housing costs for students attending the newly established Colburn Conservatory of Music. The institution awards undergraduate and graduate degrees and advanced certificates, preparing students for professional careers in the arts. In 2004, the Colburn Conservatory of Music matriculated its first class. In the years since, enrollment has consistently grown, and in 2007, we added a 12-story residence hall on campus. Many of our graduates have pursued careers with professional orchestras, and others have become educators themselves.

Most Recently

In 2010, we were excited to introduce the Colburn Music Academy as a pre-college program for aspiring musicians. Our highly knowledgeable faculty designed the curriculum to prepare high school students to advance their musicianship so they’d be ready to enter conservatory and university level programs.

Then in 2013, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Jenifer Ringer was chosen to lead the new Colburn Dance Academy, a pre-professional program for high school-aged students. Along with the guidance of acclaimed dancer Benjamin Millepied, Ringer and the Dance Academy faculty created a program that emphasizes ballet techniques, but includes instruction in many other dance styles, too.

The Future of the Colburn School

Just as in the beginning, everyone at the Colburn School remains committed to offering educational opportunities—through formal classes, hundreds of performances, and community engagement—to future generations of students who have a passion for the performing arts.

Fast Facts about the Colburn School

  • Our various programs support 2,000 students
  • The Community Engagement program reaches 15 schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Hundreds of free or affordable concerts are offered both on the Colburn School campus and throughout the community
  • Graduates have pursued careers with major orchestras or dance companies. Others have become educators themselves, further encouraging a lifelong passion of the performing arts in students.

Colburn School 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.
  • 1986-87: A jazz program is initiated under the leadership of Harold Battiste, and the Chamber Music Institute is initiated under Lia Starer Levine.
  • 1988-89: The name is changed to the R.D. Colburn School of Performing Arts.
  • 1992-93: The school establishes a scholarship program based solely on need.
  • 1995-96: The school name is changed to the Colburn School of Performing Arts, officially the Colburn School.
  • 1996-97: Groundbreaking occurs for new building at 200 South Grand Avenue.
  • 1998: On June 30, the Colburn School moves into its new home on Grand Avenue. Also, Richard Colburn pledges a $165 million endowment.
  • 2003-04: The Colburn Conservatory of Music matriculates its first official class of 15 students.
  • 2006-07: The Colburn Conservatory Orchestra debuts in Walt Disney Concert Hall. Plus, the first baccalaureate class of the Colburn Conservatory graduates.
  • 2010: The Colburn Music Academy welcomes its first class of students.
  • 2014: The Colburn Dance Academy enrolls the first group of students.