Anyone who has put on some headphones and clicked play to an emotional love ballad, a powerful rock song, or a sad R&B tune can attest to the potential music has to open emotional doorways that allow for human connection on a global scale. Now, imagine that potential at the fingertips of today’s youth—opening possibilities for them to find safety and comfort in self-expression, perhaps even moments of joy. That is what an intimate group of individuals who work for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest school district, do every year for LAUSD students. Recognizing the significance of this small group of people are directors Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers, who just happened to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Short this past weekend.

The Last Repair Shop is the culmination of four years of hard work and dedication by Proudfoot, Bowers, and the rest of the documentary’s team. The short film highlights the story of four individuals who repair and maintain musical instruments used by LAUSD students. This school district is one of the only in the country that supplies musical equipment to its students free of charge, a potentially life-changing opportunity for over 500,000 students. 

Hailing their Oscar win as a victory in support of musical education, Proudfoot earned his second Academy Award within three years this past award weekend, while Bowers was honored with his first. During the award ceremony, co-director Bowers stated in his acceptance speech, “The Last Repair Shop is about the heroes in our schools who often go unsung, unthanked, and unseen. Tonight, you are sung, you are thanked, and you are seen.” Bowers understands intimately the power of this unassuming workshop’s potential and how broken instruments can make music long after students leave.

As a former L.A. public school student, Bowers remarked, “I played saxophone for a short while. Those instruments were incredibly important, and whenever they were broken or needed repair, I assumed they were being sent to the manufacturer.” Unaware of the musical magicians behind the scenes, “It never dawned on me that the people who go behind the scenes ensure that this young kid who needs to play this piano every day has that piano. And so, for me, the moment that Ben told me about it was the moment that I felt like this was a story that needed to be told,” remarked Bowers, who opened up about how proud he felt to take on this challenge of sharing this music program’s story.

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Wanting to further honor and highlight these unsung heroes, Proudfoot announced to reporters backstage at the Dolby Theatre, “We’re thrilled to announce a $15 million capital campaign to help shore up the repair shop. You can go to right now. Everybody watching… everything helps, and I think it goes to show the power of the short documentary.”

With a fund-raising effort in place to help lift up the LAUSD musical program, Proudfoot opened up about the importance of supporting musical education, remarking that musical education is about more than finding the next prodigy, “There’s also an incredible social benefit for music education of everybody who doesn’t become a professional musician.” The dedicated musical technicians of LAUSD certainly know the impact musical access for everyone can have, and hopefully, with The Last Repair Shop, you, too, can be inspired to help today’s youth have the opportunity to play their songs.