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Family Arts: Utah's arts scene is more than accessible to families

Published: Saturday, Jan. 21 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Tony Lopez-Velez (left) shocks his mother Maria Lopez at the Clark Planetarium booth at the Artful Afternoon event at the Utah Museum of Fine Art in Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday, July 17, 2010. Artful Afternoons are free events put on by UMFA throughout the year to help families navigate traveling exhibits at the museum.

Matt Gillis

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

Marilyn Whitchurch, an American Fork mother of three kids ages 11, 14 and 16, loves taking her family to artistic events and exhibits. When it comes to rounding up the entire family, she feels they aren’t without options.

“There’s more than you can possibly take advantage of, actually,” she said. “There’s a lot of good variety.”

Margaret Hunt, director of Utah Arts and Museums, thinks that the reason arts organizations so often target families is a no-brainer: Utah has large families.

“Trying to take a large family to an arts event can be maybe a little daunting in terms of what that cost might be,” she said. Whitchurch admitted that her family doesn’t get to go to arts events as much as they’d like to.

“It’s the money thing,” she said.

And Utah arts groups are not oblivious to this fact.

“I think our arts organizations are really conscientious and aware of the need to make their programs accessible,” Hunt said. “I think there’s just a strong sense of responsibility there.”

Lynne Larson, education director at Repertory Dance Theatre, fired off a number of educational, family-targeted events and performance deals.

“We’re trying to make it affordable enough that people can come and bring their kids and have an artistic experience, but yet not spend a hundred dollars,” she said.

Venues strive to offer family events not only in terms of cost, but also in age-appropriate appeal and programming.

“There are a lot of families who would like to introduce their children … to concert-going and to classical music, but they might not feel their children are ready for a two-hour-long concert … It might just be too broad a leap between kid entertainment and adult entertainment,” said Paula Fowler, director of education and community outreach with Utah Symphony-Utah Opera. “We just try to fill in that gap. We see a need and a desire from parents for that type of programming.”

Vanessa Ballam, education director and performer at Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, said that whenever they plan each season, the artistic staff asks themselves, “Is this something that will speak to our community?” The Utah community, she said, so happens to be a very family-oriented one, so they try to supply performances and programs accordingly.

The examples of such programming are seemingly endless.

Repertory Dance Theatre offers a monthly “Ring Around the Rose” series performance from September to May. They call their programs “wiggle-friendly,” and the cost is no more than $5. The Utah Symphony offers multiple concerts throughout the season either as part of its family series or “lollipops” series, which is geared toward children ages 5 through 12 and costs no more than $10.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts and Springville Museum of Arts offer similar monthly family day or family night events that are free. Ballet West recently finished its 2011 run of “The Nutcracker,” which was recommended for anyone ages 3 and up, and hosted Sugar Plum Parties for children at a reasonable cost after every matinee. Hale Centre Theatre bills itself as “Utah’s Premiere Family Theatre,” and Desert Star as “Utah’s Funniest Family Theater.” And it’s not too hard to find some kind of family package deal just about anywhere.

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