► Donate Now “I realized how deep you could go with just one word. How that one word could open new doors.”

Student participant in Words and Music.


A participant in a recent San Diego Opera artist-residency worked with SDO’s resident costume designer to build a costume that her great-grandmother would have worn in the late 19th century as a resident of a small town near Acapulco, Mexico. Both San Diego Opera and the program participant learned a great deal from this exchange. In an evaluation of the project, entitled San Diego Opera Costume Project Pilot: Learning How to Maintain the Generative Form and Honor Lived Experiences, a professional arts education program evaluator notes that, “Expressing oneself through the arts can awaken inspiration, stimulate curiosity, and connect individuals to a timeless stream of human creativity while simultaneously placing them within that lineage. For participants in this project, this was no different. They shared how seeing their artifacts come to life was deeply fulfilling and aroused a hunger to learn more about the art form as well as how their personal experiences shape their artistic perspective.” You can read the full report here.

In the fall of 2020, San Diego Opera Education teaching artists connected with students and families from Logan Heights, Lincoln Park, and City Heights to create and share a personal artistic artifact from this historical time. A music education scholar and consultant joined this project as well, and you can read the report he wrote about it titled Equity, Creativity, and Artifacts: Building Community Online During COVID-19 here.


San Diego Opera’s Words and Music program is a collection of long-term in-school, after-school, and summer artist residencies.

The Professional Teaching Artists of Words and Music work with students to create original plays, poems, and music based on their life experience. Our focus on personal storytelling through culturally relevant music and drama empowers youth to envision a better world through collaborative art creation. Students rehearse the works throughout the year and perform them for audiences of peers, teachers, and community members.

Words and Music serves students attending Title I schools and community centers in the city’s historically marginalized areas. Our program strategy is to focus on the neighborhoods of Logan Heights, Lincoln Park, and City Heights, partnering with Memorial Preparatory for Scholars and Athletes, Lincoln High School, and La Maestra Center for Youth Advancement.

Our Teaching Artists are trained in Restorative Practices, which focuses on improving students’ and their communities’ behavioral health. This approach has been proven to lead to respect, empathy, trust-building, and problem solving.

Many participating students are English Language Learners. Nearly all of our Professional Teaching Artists are fluent in English and Spanish, and the student performances use multiple languages in spoken word, songs, and scripts.

San Diego Opera partners with local nonprofits Izcalli and La Maestra Center for Youth Advancement for implementation of Words and Music since 2016.

Izcalli is a community-based Chicano theatre troupe whose mission is to promote cultural consciousness through the arts, education, and community dialogue.

La Maestra Foundation Center for Youth Advancement serves the youth of City Heights by providing an after-school and summer program aimed at empowering economically disadvantaged urban youth from 6-18 years old. This program offers comprehensive services focusing on the” Art of Healing” through Music, Art, Theatre, Yoga/Mindfulness, and STEAM programming.

San Diego Opera has partnered with Izcalli since 2014 and with La Maestra since 2016.

“We decided to make a play about a day in Barrio Logan, to show how we live and make sure that people don’t get any wrong perspectives. This actually is a good neighborhood and it’s nice to have something our own.”

By the end of the program, participants experience:

  • Increased skills and knowledge of the arts
  • Behavioral health outcomes including: active engagement, assertiveness, belonging, reflection, collaboration, compromise, patience, focus, better attendance, and commitment to academic success
  • New connections to additional social-emotional health resources like school counseling, professional interventions, and social services.

  • Students build confidence and community through performing experience, discover their creativity and talent, and gain a sense of pride and accomplishment.

    “We started to notice one another’s stories and poems and everybody started to get on the same level of understanding.”