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Two Carlsbad Moms are Filling the Arts Education Void

Carlsbad residents Sarah Smylie and Amanda Gareis have created a buzzy new organization that gives kids a forum to share musical and comedic talents


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Learning an instrument, reading music, and joining chorus or band used to be hallmarks of music education, but many California school districts are now singing a different tune—budget cuts.

Longtime local music teacher Lisa Harper notes that the Carlsbad Educational Foundation has stepped in to help support music funding, but at a contracted rate, which means the city is no longer competitive in attracting music teachers, who wouldn't receive the job security and benefits they could in Vista or San Marcos. As a result, many local classes are being taught by parents with no musical background.

But Carlsbad residents Sarah Smylie and Amanda Gareis set out to flip the situation by creating Junior Artists & Musicians. J.A.M. gives pint-size performers a forum in which to share their musical and comedic talents. There are no lessons—just a space for kids to try their talents and receive support. Although instruction isn’t a component, J.A.M. has already reached out to teachers from eight private North County music studios. In addition, kids from Rios Music Project and the School of Rock Encinitas, among others, have come to their open mic nights.

“We have many self-taught musical kids, and we’d searched around the county for open mics,” Smiley says. “Not finding any, we decided to start a kids’ open mic circuit of our own."

Participants have a chance to perform at no cost with no requirements or auditions. “We hope to show how valuable music is while giving these kids a chance they wouldn’t normally have.”

Much of J.A.M.’s growth comes from word-of-mouth buzz; for the first Kids Open Mic this March, the organization showcased 30 kids from ages 5 to 16 with 100 people in attendance. Crowds have only grown; the most recent event was at the Museum of Making Music.

Parents and friends have volunteered as audio technicians, music schools have provided equipment and coaching, and owners of local venues have been more than willing to host.

“J.A.M. allows kids from all musical backgrounds to feel the spotlight,” Smiley says. “That moment—when they use their instruments or voices, feel the emotion of live music, and hear the audience roar applause—is like no other.”

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Carlsbad residents Sarah Smylie and Amanda Gareis have created a buzzy new organization that gives kids a forum to share musical and comedic talents
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