Mission and History

Colburn South Plaza
Founded on the principal of access to excellence, the Colburn School 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 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

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. 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. When Mr. Colburn took over operations, he invited Mr. Zipper to become the institution’s artistic advisor, a role he held until his death in 1997.

The Community School Grows

The 1980s and 90s were a time of significant growth for the Community School. Among other developments, the School added jazz and chamber music to the curriculum, restructured the Suzuki and music theory programs, and added community outreach programs. 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. Colburn School of Performing Arts.

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. 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, 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 nature the 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.

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, with Toby Mayman as executive director and Fran Zarubick as 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. Colburn School 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.