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Bringing arts to K-12 community

On the morning of December 4th, students from schools across St. Louis filed into the Edison Theater at Washington University in St. Louis to see Washington University Dance Theatre: Shadows & Light.

This is not the first time local schools have been invited to see the work of WashU’s Performing Arts Department (PAD). In fact, the faculty of PAD have been providing this opportunity for over 20 years.

“Everybody deserves access to the arts,” said David Marchant, Professor of Practice in Performing Arts and the Artistic Director of Shadows & Light.

In order to provide this access, PAD faculty invite students and teachers from schools across the region to attend a Friday morning matinee of each performance. When the program first began, abundant resources made the performances easy to attend. However, in the mid-2000’s, something changed.

Marchant said that as the recession hit and funding for the arts decreased, they began to see fewer and fewer urban school districts in attendance.

“We were noticing there was a gap in the St. Louis city and public schools that were able to attend,” Marchant said. “ And we noticed there was a tremendous burden for schools just with the buses and transportation.”

To counteract this, PAD formed a partnership with a university program called K-12 Connections. The program, a joint effort by the Institute for School Partnership, the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, and the Office of Government and Community Relations, provides support and the resources of the university to students, teachers, and administrators locally. Through the partnership, schools no longer faced a financial barrier in offering artistic experiences to their students.

“It was a nice solution because through K-12 Connections we were able to get funding for the transportation for those schools,” Marchant said. “And with the help and support of the program, we’ve been able to bring more students back to the shows.”

Since the beginning of this partnership, K-12 Connections has helped many students attend PAD performances, including a small group of students from University City High School who attended the WashU Dance Theater this December. After the show, the students were invited to participate in a master class coordinated and taught by Marchant. Among the University City students was junior Raven Bullard. For Bullard, the experience was more than just a performance. It inspired her to consider her future as a dancer, artist, and academic.

“I was clearly able to visualize a learning environment that was both focused and innovative,” Bullard said of Marchant’s master class. “It encouraged me to pursue my growth as a dancer, however great a portion of my future being it may claim.”

This initial experience allowed Bullard to attend another of Marchant’s classes and to take a closer look at what her future aspirations as a dancer and student might look like. For Marchant, it was a confirmation of why sharing the arts with the K-12 community is so important.

“If the show made that kind of impact on one student, it was well worth the effort,” Marchant said.

January 2016   |  by, Gennafer Barajas

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