Arts in Education Week: The UMS Perspective
By Ken FischerTweet
Back in July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring this week as Arts in Education Week. To that end, umsLOBBY.org will post a series of articles this week focused on arts education. This first post features UMS President Ken Fischer talking about UMS’s arts education focus, which was virtually non-existent when he arrived in Ann Arbor in 1987.
UMS is proud of all of our education programs, but as our K-12 program begins its third decade, I want to take a minute to acknowledge its origins. I’ll never forget my first meeting with Ann Arbor Public Schools arts coordinator Deb Katz in 1988. I wanted her advice about how we might begin a K-12 program. Deb was on maternity leave, so I met with her in her home. As she sat with her infant daughter in her lap, she passed on this clear and authoritative advice: “Start with fourth graders and expose them to opera.” That’s exactly what we did. We engaged the NYC Opera National Company each year well into the 1990s, and as part of their residency, they performed two abbreviated one-hour shows for Ann Arbor fourth graders who were able to experience Carmen, La Bohème, Barber of Seville, and other well-known operas, sung in their original language with English surtitles. Each teacher received a resource packet about the opera and how its elements could be tied to the curriculum – geography, math, language, cultural traditions, etc. Each year the Company invited a dozen students to appear on stage in crowd scenes, complete with costumes. Deb’s advice was right on: Opera had all of the elements – music, dance, and drama – to engage curious, open, and enthusiastic fourth graders.
Ben Johnson’s arrival in 1995 as our first full-time education director came at the same time UMS was expanding and diversifying our programming. With extraordinary support from the UMS Advisory Committee, who identified our K-12 program as the beneficiary of their Ford Honors Program and On the Road fundraisers and who serve as the volunteer greeters and ushers for all of the youth performances, UMS’s K-12 program now serves up to 20,000 young people from throughout the region who experience the rich diversity of cultural expressions from all over the world.
In 1997, UMS was named a “Partner in Education” by the Kennedy Center. Working with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, UMS participates in an annual institute that provides models and planning strategies for expanding professional development programs in the arts for all teachers, as a way of increasing the artistic literacy of young people. In addition to youth performances, we now provide workshops, daylong immersions, and in-classroom experiences that complement the youth performance series in the concert venues.
We are so fortunate to live in a community that recognizes the value of arts education. Attendance at teacher workshops and youth performances continues to grow, and we regularly hear that these opportunities have been “game-changers” in the classroom for students and educators alike.
Each year, we host an “After-School Luncheon for Teachers” to talk about the season’s upcoming programs [pdf]. This year’s is tomorrow – Tuesday, September 14 at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. All are welcome to attend and learn more about UMS’s programs that will help create lifelong lovers of the performing arts.