The Jason Mraz-RVA Love Story Begins with Art Education in His Hometown

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    Grammy award winner Jason Mraz loves being a big kid on stage, and that’s what his continuing participation in SPARC’s LIVE ART program allows him to do.

    “It’s a way for me to stay in the program,” the Mechanicsville native and SPARC alum says. “I want my participation to inspire young makers and creators. If a kid from this program makes it as an artist, I hope they will be inspired to give back to the program that inspired them.”

    Mraz credits SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) with introducing him to his imagination at an early age. “When I was in SPARC’s summer program, that gave me validation,” he says. “Whether I’m in the wings or on the stage, I am going to be associated with this. I look at SPARC as a vital organization that must go on.”

    Richmond native Rayvon Owen (center) joined Jason Mraz and performed with SPARC kids at the LIVE ART show earlier this summer in Richmond. (Photo by Jim Hale)

    This year Mraz joined singers Sara Bareilles, Josh Groban, Michael McDonald, and Rayvon Owen on stage with more than two hundred kids and artists for LIVE ART Love on June 3 at Altria Theater.

    Helping secure the guest artists for the show is both challenging and gratifying for Mraz, who’s tasked with that role. “Five years ago, making the ‘ask’ was not easy to do,” he says, adding that LIVE ART creator and director Erin Thomas-Foley dreams big when it comes to the artists she wants for the show. “But now, I know how I should do it. I cast a really wide net.”

    Asking an artist to appear in the show is challenging, he adds. “In this business, you don’t get a lot of asks. I’ve started to save mine for LIVE ART.”

    The show has to resonate with an artist before he or she will say yes. “They have to find their own connection to want to come,” he says. “This year, it was a happy coincidence that we had the hosts of the Tony Awards – Bareilles and Groban – as our guests. We were happy to have Sara back. She’s the first national and international artist to return, and that says a lot about the program.”

    Mraz would love to see LIVE ART have a life that extends outside of Richmond. Last year in March, he was part of a LIVE ART performance with local Austrian students at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. “It was our first attempt at replicating LIVE ART outside of Richmond. We had to do it in a very short time and in a completely different language for national/world broadcast,” he says.

    There were as many tears that night as a “typical LIVE ART show,” he adds. “So we knew we can make an impact. We’d like to create more allies to replicate the program because of its power to transform families and the communities that support them.”

    This May, Mraz teamed up with Senator Tim Kaine on harmonica and students from LIVE ART to perform in the tenth annual We Write the Songs* event at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. “We had a captive audience,” Mraz says of the Senators and staff who attended.

    The event supported the Music Modernization Act, which will update how artists and songwriters are paid in the modern, digital marketplace. It will help the small songwriter see “improvements,” says Mraz who won the Hal David Songwriters Hall of Fame Award in 2009.

    Outside of SPARC, Mraz is busy with his own career, which took an interesting twist last year when he made his Broadway debut in Waitress in November. Bareilles, who earned Tony and Grammy Award nominations for the score, rejoined the show during his run, which ended in February.

    “Being in Waitress was a dream gig,” Mraz says. “I got to sing some beautiful songs. Being invited to New York and getting paid to be an actor is something every SPARC kid dreams of.”

    The invitation came at the right time, he adds. “It felt like a good fit after twenty years of visiting New York. If it had been ten years ago, it would have been intimidating and out of my league.”

    Doing the show was almost like taking a break, Mraz says. “I had no other obligation but to stay healthy and go to the theater and do the show. I’m healthier and more fit now than I have ever been in my life.”

    He admits he misses being in the show. “Maybe there will be another,” he says.

    Mraz is also involved with Turnaround Arts, a nationwide school reform effort that transforms priority schools through the strategic use of the arts. “It’s reminding communities that art is important,” he says. “Any field or career relies on visionaries and creative minds (that develop from participation in the arts).”

    Turnaround Arts Richmond was one of the partner organizations that worked with Mraz for the music video for his latest song Have It All, released in April. The video features students from SPARC and Richmond Public Schools as well as other arts organizations. It was filmed at Binford Middle School, part of the Turnaround Arts program, and various places around the Richmond area. Watch the video here!

    “Art frees you from the suffering of being human,” Mraz says. “Art is our greatest weapon in the war against unhappiness, and we need that as humans anywhere we can get it.”

    That’s why SPARC and LIVE ART are so important. “It’s inclusive,” he says. “It’s training kids to be kind, accepting, and generous human beings.”

    Jason Mraz joined singers Sara Bareilles, Josh Groban, Michael McDonald, and Rayvon Owen on stage with more than two hundred kids and artists for “LIVE ART Love” on June 3 at Altria Theater. (Photos of Jason Mraz by Eric Morgensen)

     

    *U.S. Senator Tim Kain made a surprise appearance on stage during “I’m Yours” to join Jason Mraz and SPARC youth performers during the “We Write the Songs” concert on May 16, 2018, at the Library of Congress. WATCH HERE!

     

    Jason Mraz and the SPARC team performed on The Today Show in New York City. WATCH HERE!