Instead of holiday gifts, Ignition gives to LA school

Ignition partners with Alliance Morgan McKinzie High School for the holidays, including a student art gallery

Los Angeles-based independent creative and entertainment marketing agency Ignition decided to do away with the traditional gift giving a couple of years ago. Instead, they chose to help out their community by partnering with local charter schools to help fund programs.

Ignition’s partnership with Alliance Morgan McKinzie High School in East LA works with the school to offer internships and mentoring. The school serves low-income students and challenges students of the digital arts and media program to explore and develop valuable skills in film, media, digital arts, animation, web design, broadcasting, music, and graphic design. Through Ignition’s partnership, they help create career days for the students to learn about the marketing and entertainment professions.

This partnership came about when the crew at Ignition decided to do something different at the holidays.

“We just started talking about it and [said] ‘you have some clients that aren't allowed to accept gifts and then some are’ and so on, and we just started brainstorming. I had off the cuff said ‘boy, it would be really interesting and really nice to actually take all of that money and instead of giving gifts to clients, give it to an organization or a group where we were giving back to the community,” said Carrie Wiltshire, COO at Ignition.

Wiltshire had heard of a charter school needing funding for its arts program, so the idea spun from there, to give back to students who might one day want to come work in the creative environment.

Choosing Alliance was done through a lot of research. They looked at every school they could to donate to and who really needed it. They found Alliance and representatives from the school presented Ignition with how their program helped the students and it seemed a natural fit for both ignition and the high school.

“We were excited at the opportunity to partner with the people in the industry and be able to give the kids some real life experiences,” said Art Sanchez, principal at the school. “They've never met artists or they've never gone on a tour of a real facility like that. Just the fact that they were willing to reach out and help us, we were really excited.”

The program offers kids in East LA to experience things they might not otherwise in their neighborhood, including visiting Ignition and seeing other areas of Los Angeles.

“We have an art show that culminated our year at Ignition and they displayed the artwork and invited people down, and we took close to 90 kids on a bus and they could talk about their art work. As we were driving, the kids had never been out to Marina Del Rey. They had not been outside of East LA,” said Sanchez.

The money from Ignition helps build the programs at Alliance. Last year, they were able to add that art program and now they are adding more art classes and AP classes for the first time.

“The kids were excited because they love to draw and they love to express themselves through the art and that's one of the very few things we have. We are a very small school,” Sanchez said.

He also said that to help get their art seen, the school has display boards, and the digital crew developed giant banners to also help display the work.

What Ignition helps with is not just funding the programs but also getting the kids to learn that art is more than just expression. It can be a pathway to a career.

“What they are learning is that it's just not art. There's just a thousand fields connected to the creativity of it. There's advertising, marketing, all kinds of things and so they're learning it. We had a young man be able to do a partnership there and he did an internship this summer with Ignition,” said Sanchez.

“When his mom first brought him to me he didn't want to come to school. He just wasn't interested in school, but he wanted to be a filmmaker and we had that multimedia class and once he understood we just kept talking and talking to him. Finally, he drew the connection that ‘hey I can do this but I need to go to school’ and they're also pushing the education part at Ignition for him. He just took off. He graduated. He stayed in school and now he's got a goal and an aspiration to be a filmmaker. He's going to go to community college and then he wants to transfer to USC.”

There are more stories about kids who were never exposed to art being inspired and getting an appreciation and foundation for the future, and to help further their education, Alliance has partnered with East LA college to make art credits transferrable. Many of the kids who go on to college will be first in their families to do so, according to Sanchez.

Giving kids a career path

Ignition’s involvement has given the kids involved not just appreciation for the arts, but for some, a way to see a way to greater things. The agency hosted a mini career day last year, showing what the company does in each department. When they did that, Wiltshire’s Instagram blew up with students wanting to intern there. This year, they are looking to grow the career day to include even more students and employees.

“It was so fun to have the students here and I have so many people from creative directors, to producers, to editors, to art directors that actually want to go over to the school and speak with the students and have that back and forth and have that mentorship kind of program with them. We are starting to formulate that and what it will look like to do that this year. That's kind of how we are trying to cross those worlds,” she said.

Ignition does a large summer internship program, accepting between 10-20 interns. With the program at Alliance, finding those interns not only gets the kids more interested, it helps keep the relationship vital.

“I really believe that between us and Alliance Morgan McKinzie this is going to be a really good positive partnership,” added Wiltshire.

Getting in at the intern level can lead to greater things at Ignition. Employees, including interns, are nurtured. Those at the entry level can and often do rise in the ranks. So when Ignition goes out and imparts its culture and sense of community, it’s a great introduction to the industry and gets kids excited and inspired.

The partnership promotes pride with the kids involved. Having their work seen and appreciated gets parents and students more involved, and the parents are helping take it a step further by doing a mural in the community.

“We have a huge parent club and we communicate with our parents what our students are doing and who our partners are. The parents are excited that our kids are going to go out hopefully this year in the community and do a mural. We're actually working on that with Ignition and in the community,” said Sanchez.

He recalled that the store where his grandmother had shopped is now their school and it had murals on it that had been in East LA as part of the community.

“Alliance had them taken down and had them preserved and we put them back up as part of our school and the heritage of East LA. So the kids get to see that. They've met the artist. He has come in and talked to them about what Hispanic art is, about being prideful about who you are, and being able to draw and be creative and let it out and not be afraid to take chances. It's been a real positive thing for us,” said Sanchez.

Alliance and Ignition have sparked a great partnership, one that helps the community and the kids in ways they probably hadn’t imagined. It’s one that not only feels good at the holiday season, but lasts well throughout the year.

Additional reporting by Doug Zanger

Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

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