Cultural Arts Take Work

The school year has begun.  That means soon — in a tradition dating back nearly 40 years — your kids will answer more than “Nothing” when you ask, “So what did you do today?”

Thanks to Westport’s PTA Cultural Arts Committee, youngsters from kindergarten through high school are constantly exposed to high-quality live performances of theater, dance and music of every kind.

When your child describes that day’s poetry jam, concert or puppet show, that enthusiasm is genuine.  But the performances don’t fall out of the sky.  They’re carefully planned, lovingly thought out and meticulously organized.

And they cost money.

The Cultural Arts Committee ws formed in the early 1970s by a group  of women (including the still indefatigable Mollie Donovan).  Their goal:  Expose Westport youngsters to a wide variety of arts, to encourage lifelong appreciation.

The committee — with 5 or so parent representatives from each school — meets monthly.  They discuss shows they’ve previewed; negotiate contracts; work with administrators on scheduling, and assist behind the scenes on performance dates.

Recent favorites illustrate the breadth and depth of the Cultural Arts Committee’s reach:  a jazz band, modern choreography, a stunning portrayal of Martin Luther King, a capella, Afro-Boricua music, storytelling, wheelchair dancers — the list is endless.  The effect is powerful.

The "China Dance" troupe wowed middle schoolers last April.

The "China Dance" troupe wowed middle schoolers last April.

When Gideon Freudman performed with an electric cello, he moved a number of children to stay with their instrument at a time when they were questioning whether playing cello was cool.  The “Mask Messenger” used entertaining masks to show youngsters that all people resort to “masks” of some kind in certain situations.  The “Within the Silence” film and memoir account of World War II internment camps made vivid a piece of history that is otherwise difficult for middle schoolers to comprehend.

The Cultural Arts Committee also offers “enrichment subsidies” of $500 to each grade level at every school for a performance of a teacher’s choice.  Fifth graders studying ancient Greece may see “Chariot of the Sun,” bringing mythology to life, while Staples English students might hear a reading by a Mexican poet prodigy in his early 20s.

In addition, the committee sponsors museum trips to New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

How do they do it?  Entirely through donations.  The committee’s entire budget of $65,000 to $75,000 comes without funding from the town.

Money is raised through direct appeal to parents via a flyer sent home with back-to-school materials.  To donate click here, then click on “PTA Cultural Arts” on the left.  Or send a check (“PTA Cultural Arts”) to Kariene Maloney, 4 Norwood La., Westport CT 06880.  Suggested contribution:  $20 per student, or $50 per family.

Sound like 1 more expense you’d like to avoid?  Remember what you spent the last time you went to the movies?

Or bowling?

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