Family Arts: Arts education endeavors in Utah schools

Published: Saturday, Jan. 14 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Utah Opera resident artist John Buffett entertains children during an education outreach assembly at Gearld L. Wright Elementary School in West Valley City Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor’s note: This article is second in a three-part series examining the issue of exposing children to the arts and what’s being done to provide both arts education in schools and opportunity for arts experiences for children and families. You can read the first part here.

Paula Fowler, director of education and community outreach for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, managed to precisely sum up the huge wealth of opportunity for arts exposure among Utah students.

“Our students throughout the state get introduced to Shakespearean theater, to modern dance, to traditional ballet, to opera and to symphonic music and to visual arts,” she said.

According to an arts education survey conducted during the 2009-2010 school year, 80 percent of Utah’s schools participated in visiting performing group’s programs, compared to Idaho’s 65 percent, Wyoming’s 70 percent and Montana’s 51 percent.

Go to the Web site of nearly any professional arts organization in Utah and it will likely have some kind of link or tab for education.

It’s thanks to so many arts education endeavors that so many students get to brush shoulders with professional artists.

“They’re lucky, lucky children because lots of states don’t offer this type of programming in the arts, if any,” said Vanessa Ballam, director of education and performer at Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater, while discussing UFOMT’s Opera By Children program. “And I think our kids are really blessed to have it in their lives.”

Beverly Hawkins, symphony education manager for USUO, related her experiences in various conventions and meetings for the League of American Orchestras. Many fellow attendees expressed jealousy over the ample education programs Utah has.

“If we’re not the only ones doing that, it’s really rare that we’re able to provide all of these services,” she said.

The Professional Outreach Program in the School collaborates with both schools and the Utah State Board of Education to enhance the state’s fine arts core curriculum with visits from professional artists— free of charge.

One of the main goals of the POPS organization is to give students a chance to experience art, a completely new experience for many of them.

At Gearld Wright Elementary in West Valley at the end of November, Utah Opera’s four resident artists performed for a group of students from kindergarten to third grade, a presentation called, “Who Wants to Be an Opera Star?” — fine art under the guise of a game show reminiscent of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” or “American Idol.”

When goofy soprano Jennie Lister, whom the young audience quickly picked as a favorite to root for, first opened her mouth to sing, the crowd of kids giggled at first.

“It’s a little different from what you hear on the radio, isn’t it?” baritone John Buffett said.

From patient explanations to jokes about Santa Claus, the singers managed to put on a performance that, for many children, was their first ever experience with songs from opera classics like “The Magic Flute.” And judging by the happy singing and cheering, it appeared to be a positive experience at that.

Other members of POPS utilize access to the state core curriculum in order to develop cross-curricular activities.

During an outreach visit at Pleasant Green in Magna, Repertory Dance Theatre Director of Education Lynne Larson asked fourth-graders if they had been learning about the water cycle. She asked them to dance what rain was like.

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