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Nonprofit aims to bring back arts education in public schools
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The Romance of Old Havana, a Cuban-themed fundraiser to benefit arts education, will feature photographs of Cuba taken by David Schroeder and Jon Souza. - photo by Photo Contributed

Whenever education budgets get tightened, art programs are often the first to get cut. It is a harsh reality that John Griswold discovered through his years in the performing arts industry.

“It’s a sad reality,” said Griswold. “These budgets constraints can severely impact the students' academic performance and the way they progress with their cognitive abilities in the future. It has a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of every child and has proven to help level the learning field across socio-economic boundaries.”

Griswold, an art aficionado who helped start The State Theatre in Modesto and has promoted many concerts and events throughout the Central Valley, decided to do his part in helping restore arts education through Focus On…, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing performing arts in schools.

“Over the past couple of months I’ve partnered up with long time friends David Schroeder and Jon Souza, who also support this important cause,” said Griswold. “Although our organization is fairly new, we plan to help hundreds of children develop their artistic minds.”

Focus On… will be holding a Cuban themed fundraiser to benefit arts programs in Stanislaus County schools. The event, named “The Romance of Old Havana,” will be held on July 27 at the Martin G. Peterson Event Center in downtown Modesto.

“This entertaining evening will center on the photography of David and Jon’s trip to Cuba in 2012,” said Griswold. “They brought some amazing photos of the culture and life of Old Havana. The proceeds of the fundraiser will be given to the Boys and Girls Club of Stanislaus County and the C.L.A.S.S. Program through the Central California Art Association.”

The evening will feature live Cuban music and authentic Cuban “street food.”

“We’ll be bringing in a chef from San Francisco named Larry MacDonald who will be working alongside his associate chef who is from Cuba. The food is exquisite and purely authentic,” Griswold said.

No Cuban event would be complete without its signature mojito. The event will also feature three separate mojito bars and be serving Cuba libres.

“We will also be hosting a silent auction with some really nice items that will benefit the CLASS program and the Boys and Girls Club,” said Griswold. “There will also be a Cuban cigar pavilion and we hope to feature a hand-rolling cigar demonstration.”

The Cuban-themed evening will be one of many fundraisers that “Focus On…” plans to host.

“We hope to make it an annual fundraiser where we have a different themed country every year,” said Griswold. “I’m thinking next year we’ll feature Brazil or Ireland.”

To purchase tickets, visit or call John Griswold at 543-4261.