By Paul M. Kopenkoskey
Mary Martha Lappe was
serving as chairwoman of the University of Houston dance studio when
she was asked to help launch the High School For The Performing And
Visual Arts in 1971.
The original plan for the
Meyerland resident was to take a one-year leave of absence from the
UH. Instead, her association with HSPVA extended to more than 40
“I really enjoyed being a
part of a good public school for the arts as it evolved,” Lappe
The nascent years of that
evolution started during a tumultuous time in the nation’s history,
Lappe recalled, when race riots and school integration had pockets
of the United States up in arms. Amid the turmoil, national
media reported on what HSPVA was working to accomplish, and the
school’s phone rang off the hook.
“It was mentioned this
small inner-city school in Houston was attracting black, brown,
Asian, and white kids from all over that were doing well and earning
scholarships,” Lappe said. “We started getting phone calls from
school districts all over the country saying “We want to talk to
those people who started a magnet school for the arts in Houston.”
Lappe said she believes the
key to HSPVA’s success is administrators who insisted on fusing
scholastics with the arts.
“We didn’t want it viewed
as a play school where students didn’t have anything to show after
high school,” Lappe said. “We wanted a good academic program along
with good performing and visual arts training.”
Lappe was chairwoman of the
HSPVA Dance Department for 25 years. In 1997, she became executive
director of HSPVA FRIENDS, a nonprofit organization that raised $8
million in private support for the school and its students,
including $1.6 million in scholarships. She retired in May.
“ I could see public
education in the arts really worked, and in the 70’s, that was hard
to find,” Lappe said. “Kids were exceeding our expectations. We knew
that what we were doing was working, and that’s a wonderful
Lappe has worked 52 years
in public education.