Arts: Educational Outreach

Kathy Lynn Gray

Few would argue against the importance of arts education. But for some Central Ohio students, such opportunities are few and far between.

Several local arts organizations, however, have stepped to fill that void and provide rich, on-site experiences. From ballerinas to violinists, professional artists of all types are sharing their creativity with children through special programming.

Here are a few of the organizations that touch students' lives with art, dance, theater, opera and music.

The Artmobile

Tobi Furman believes all kids have the right to be artists. So two years ago, the former marketing professional createdThe Artmobile, a program that travels to area libraries, community centers, festivals and schools to give children that opportunity.

Furman's team of artists sets up inside a building or outside under a pop-up tent, teaching up to 20 kids at a time. Projects might include drawing self-portraits, building sculptures, making rock art or assembling ice pop sticks into a unique creation.

This summer, she offered the program, which targets low-income neighborhoods, for an hour each week at several libraries. Last year, Artmobile artists taught third- and fourth-graders drawing every Wednesday during recess at Burroughs Elementary School on the Hilltop. “We go all over the city,” Furman said. “Sometimes there's no other way to give this to those who really need it.”

Most of her students are 5-14 years old, but this school year Furman will take the program into at least one preschool. Part of her goal, she said, is to tie art projects to the history and diversity of each neighborhood. Artmobile charges $200 to $250 for its programs, which are about 75 minutes long. The cost includes supplies, setup, tables and snacks.

Furman funded the program mostly out of pocket the first year, but has since received grants, including from the city of Columbus, Greater Columbus Arts Council and Ohio Arts Council. COSI donated a 20-seat shuttle bus, which she plans to remodel into a traveling art studio. “It'll be my dream machine,” she said. “It'll enrich the lives of kids.”


Columbus' professional ballet company is spreading the word about the importance of dance with in-school performances and weeks-long residencies.

“We want to keep the art of ballet alive and flourishing,” said Ambre Emory-Maier, BalletMet's director of education and associate director for BalletMet 2 dance academy. “We realize the benefits of the arts and dance for our community, for our creativity, our physical health and our well-being.”

BalletMet'sDance in Schools initiative offers four programs, including Movement Makers, a 45-minute lecture, demonstration and question-and-answer period led by BalletMet 2 dancers for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The session costs $500 and is tailored to fit the age group, Emory-Maier said. “We don't just come in and put our arms over our heads and spin around,” she said. “They learn some ballet history, how we create dances, and they have an opportunity to participate themselves from their seats.”

Residencies, offered for preschoolers through 12th-graders, typically last eight to 12 weeks. Programs include The Wiggle Jig for ages 3-5; Moving Into Literacy for grades 1-5; and Urban Dance and Wellness for grades 9-12.

BalletMet has been involved with local schools since its inception 41 years ago, and last year presented programs in 27 buildings and 49 classrooms. It offers limited grants funded by private and corporate donors, but most sites pay for the programs through school organizations, their own budget or community partners, Emory-Maier said.

BalletMet also offers Morning at the Ballet, special performances that school groups can attend at the Ohio Theatre.

Columbus Children's Theatre

For 48 years, theColumbus Children's Theatre touring troupe has been bringing live theater to elementary and middle schools throughout Central Ohio.

Courtney Cooke, director of theater education, said the troupe of four actors visits more than 200 schools a year to perform hourlong scripted shows and give students hands-on experiences through acting, writing, thematic and curriculum-connected workshops. This year's shows include“Miss Electricity,” “The Reluctant Dragon,” “Mr. Scrooge” and “Lions in Illyria,” which is based on Shakespeare's “Twelfth Night.” Program prices range from $675 for a single performance to $1,200 for a combination of five performances and workshops.

“We believe theater has the power to inspire, enrich and empower children, and our goal is to bring that experience to as many children as possible,” Cooke said. She said that while CCT does not provide grants, it can help school administrators connect to funding sources.

The theater organization also offers discounted tickets for classes to attend daytime performances of its regular shows throughout the year; this season those include “Mary Poppins Jr.,” “Dracula”and “Peter Pan.”

And twice during the current school year, students in kindergarten through sixth grade can submit their stories to CCT's Child Writing Project for a chance to have them included in a sketch comedy show that'll be performed in schools, Cooke said.

In addition, the company is expanding a residency program launched last year in a local middle school. Residencies will be tailored to each school and can last from one day to an entire academic year, Cooke said.

Opera Columbus

More than 13,000 students in 36 schools worked withOpera Columbus last year.

This year Opera Goes to School offerings include an English-language performance of “The Ugly Duckling” children's opera, with an optional 40-member student chorus; Concerts in the Classroom, a program that combines performance with the ins and outs of being an opera singer; and Improv Opera, a chance for kindergartners through eighth-graders to help create a short opera and see it performed.

Each program lasts about 45 minutes and is put on by Ohio State University opera students, said Destiny Coleman, director of education and artistic administration for Opera Columbus. Costs range from $375 to $550, and booking for school visits, which run from February through April, begins in October, she said. “We want to introduce children to an art form not readily available at their schools,” Coleman said. “This helps them to understand opera, in the hope that when they grow up they might be interested in attending.”

The company also offers free tickets for middle and high school students to attend dress rehearsals for its main productions, which this season are “Madama Butterfly” and “The Flood.” Opera Columbus also invites students to take tours of the Southern Theatre, where productions are staged, Coleman said.

ProMusica Chamber Orchestra

Student musicians have an opportunity to learn from instrumental professionals through Musicians in the Schools, offered mostly for high schools byProMusica, the resident orchestra for the Southern Theatre.

Orchestra members conduct master classes, lead sectionals and lecture about musical topics at 12 to 15 schools annually, said Janet Chen, ProMusica's executive director. Donations pay for the program, making it free to participants. “We are committed to making an impact outside of the concert hall,” Chen said. “Education and outreach is central to our mission.”

Each program is tailored to the needs of a particular classroom, and visits can be arranged up to four times per year. In addition, select students are paired with ProMusica musicians for the annual Messiah Side-by-Side concert, giving them the opportunity to perform with the orchestra.

“It's important to cultivate the next generation of music lovers and broaden access to the students, especially as arts and music opportunities often are the first thing to get cut in many schools,” Chen said.