Mission and History

Mission Statement

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


Colburn School was founded in 1950 as the Community School for the Arts—a small music preparatory organization for the University of Southern California.

Richard D. Colburn, a successful businessman, avid musician, and benefactor of the arts, provided generous financial support in the 1980s for the institution to become an independent, non-profit institution. In 1986, the institution changed its name to Colburn School of Performing Arts to reflect the importance of Richard D. Colburn's support and leadership.

The breadth and depth of opportunities at Colburn were continuously developed with additional programs and classes in jazz, chamber music, drama, larger instrumental and vocal ensembles, and early childhood arts education. In 1998, the Colburn School of Performing Arts moved from its humble beginnings in former army barracks and warehouses near the USC campus to its custom-built Grand Avenue home.

In 2003, the Colburn Conservatory of Music was created to provide gifted college aged instrumental musicians with training from a renowned faculty and access to professional-level performance opportunities. The conservatory offers full scholarship support, including room, board and tuition, to all students.

A major campus expansion was realized In 2007. With more classroom, rehearsal, and practice facilities for students, the expansion also served the community with public spaces, including a performing arts library, three concert halls, and a café.

In 2008, the dance program was endowed and became the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute in honor of the talented dancer and teacher. Students of all ages participate in the many classes for different dance levels. The institution was further strengthened with the addition of the Music Academy in 2010, which is dedicated to nurturing and training highly gifted and dedicated pre-college musicians, and the Adult Studies division in 2012, which offers experiential learning courses for lifelong learners in the performing arts.

Today, the Colburn School is an essential part Los Angeles’s cultural landscape, with over 2,000 students studying music and dance at all levels; hundreds of free or affordably priced public performances each year performed by students, faculty, and guest artists; and a community engagement program that reaches 5,000 students in 15 Title I schools in Downtown and South-Central LA.

Richard D. Colburn

"A businessman whose own dreams of being a professional musician fueled his generous and lifelong commitment to music and music education" — The Los Angeles Times.

Richard D. Colburn was one of America's greatest arts benefactors in the field of classical music. His passion fueled an exceptionally generous and lifelong commitment to supporting music, musicians, and music education.

Although Richard D. Colburn made his fortune as a very astute businessman with ventures across the United States in construction supplies and industrial investments, he was also a talented amateur viola player for the majority of his life. He spent much of his free time playing chamber music and attending concerts around the world and reveled in performing, quite often in his own living room, with the world's greatest musicians.

From humble beginnings to great business success, Colburn realized he was in a position to share his good fortune with the performing arts community and, in 1952, Colburn partnered with Herbert Zipper to develop and support a community music institution, which is now the Music Institute of Chicago.

When Colburn moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, he provided significant financial support and leadership toward the Community School of Performing Arts, which in 1986 was renamed The Colburn School in his honor. Richard D. Colburn was also a lifetime director and major supporter of the LA Philharmonic, a co-founder and supporter of the LA Chamber Orchestra, a Founding Angel and Domingo Angel of the LA Opera, an underwriter of The Music Guild and a supporter of many other music organizations around the world. Many brilliant musicians have been greatly aided in their careers by the generous loaning of extraordinary string instruments from the Colburn Collection.

The Colburn School is Richard D. Colburn's gift to the community in gratitude to the joy music brought to his life. The institution embodies the founding principles of Richard D. Colburn to provide a continuum of music education of the highest quality at all levels of development and to seek out and nurture the unique talents of extraordinarily gifted artists.

Herbert Zipper

“We have to see the world as it is, but we have to think about what the world could be. That's what the arts are about." —Herbert Zipper.

Herbert Zipper, the “father of the community arts movement" in the United States, was born and raised Vienna, where as a young man he established a career as a composer and conductor.

During World War II, Zipper survived two concentration camps, where he organized a secret orchestra to bolster the spirits and maintain the humanity of the prisoners. Zipper, having escaped to the Philippines in 1938, married Trudl Dubsky and became the music director and conductor of the Manila Symphony. When the city fell to the Japanese, he was again interned as a prisoner in a camp.

In 1946, Zipper moved to the United States, where his work as founder and first executive director of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts led to the establishment of hundreds of community institutions.

While serving as president of the Music Institute of Chicago, Zipper began his 40-year friendship with Richard D. Colburn, a parent at the institution. Later, at the urging of Colburn, Zipper moved to LA and was Artistic Advisor to The Colburn School from the late 1970s until his death. Herbert Zipper Concert Hall is named in his honor and serves as a performance space for Colburn students, and visiting artists and ensembles. Zipper, who said the arts “make life meaningful under the most dreadful circumstance," believed in access to the performing arts for every human being. This legacy continues through the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts outreach programs.

Trudl Dubsky Zipper

Trudl Dubsky Zipper was an innovative dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Born in Vienna, she trained and performed with the Bodenwieser School and was renowned for her dynamic modern dancing and high leaps.

She co-founded the Rutherston-Dubsky School in London and later performed and taught in the Philippines. Trudl was also an accomplished visual artist and her paintings of Manila during the Japanese occupation were published in Life Magazine.

Trudl continued as a teacher and choreography throughout her life, including at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, and later at the University of Southern California. The Colburn Dance Institute was renamed the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute in 2008 to honor this extraordinary woman.

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