Family Arts: Arts education endeavors in Utah schools

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

Sliding, rolling, hopping and clapping, the kids fused the classroom learning the dancing basics of rhythm, level and shape.

Larson related a story of a little boy improving his spelling scores through movement.

“It’s a different way to absorb the information and also help remember it,” she said, adding that a lot of kids are physical learners.

Other programs come into classrooms and transform the students into artists.

Ballam detailed UFOMT’s Opera by Children program — Utah Opera runs a similar program as well — in which young students actually write and perform an opera.

Impossible? Not at all.

“Instead of going in and performing for them, which you can absolutely learn from …we’re teaching (the students) the skills, and we’re teaching the teachers the skills so that this program can continue to grow exponentially,” Ballam said.

UFOMT educator Pam Gee made a visit to a third-grade class at the Alianza Academy in Magna in late November. The purpose of that particular visit was to write the libretto, or text, of their opera.

The children pulled out opera journals and reviewed the story they’d come up with during the last visit. There’s an earthquake in the south island of New Zealand, they said. The characters of the opera are families, airline workers and army men. The plot involves a rescue, a rebuilding and a heaping helping of chocolate bars and pizza.

Gee asked them to act out what they do in earthquakes, to act like they were in the army, to describe how they would feel in certain situations. They’d write simple sentences and tap them out to a rhythm, deciding if they’d make a plausible libretto.

Whether it’s a performance by professionals to inspire or simply introduce an art form, or an in-depth program or artist residency, each outreach program aims to have a broad impact on the artistic culture in Utah as a whole.

During a “Gallery Experience” presentation, part of the outreach program by the Springville Museum of Art at Riverview Elementary in Saratoga Springs in December, outreach coordinator Rachel Stratford stood in front of a class of 3rd-graders, along with a set of easels displaying 15 different works of art from the museum.

Students raised their hands to pick a piece. Stratford asked them to tell her what they saw. The discussion quickly turned from basic cloud-shape interpretations to the extraction of surprisingly deep meanings. The kids stared at the pieces and soaked them in.

“I know our program specifically focuses on Utah art and artists, encouraging students to see what has come from our culture and past and hopefully inspiring them to contribute art to that same legacy.”

In another outreach program the museum does, students do what they call “gesture drawing": quick self-portraits or pictures of a partner. When they’re done, Stratford strives to make a lasting impression, encouraging kids to keep drawing.

“I often will say to kids, ‘Just because I’m leaving today doesn’t mean it’s over,’” she said.

Each arts education specialist had a story or two or 10 to offer about how arts education helped a student blossom in other school subjects, how such-and-such student became a singer, how this teacher or that teacher was able to continue artistic ideas in the classroom, or how a former high school humanities student wound up a season-ticket holder for the opera.

“There isn’t a way to track that in the universe,” Fowler said. “But we get those occasional testimonials.”

Ballam had an especially personal experience to add.

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