Kicking and screaming to summer arts program fun: Don’t ask your kids, just bring ’em

News_Nancy Wozny_Nancy's Kids_Miranda Shawn

I was a bit of a clunky mom, the one you felt sorry for in the Target parking lot with snugglie/stroller issues. Even my own kids suspected they were with an amateur. From time to time they would offer advice.

Once, I baked cookies. My then 5-year-old son pulled me aside, “Mom, you don’t have to do this, they sell them at the store.”

The one thing I got right was exposing my two sons to the arts. Maybe you don’t want to get lost in the woods with my boys (although they would keep you entertained), but they can talk about art with the best of them.

I took a page from my father’s book. He never asked, “Who is in the mood for George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple?” Nah, he just piled us into the station wagon and off we went to the opera, ballet, theater or an exhibit. It works the same way around chez Wozny. Our art road trips are the price of the roof, like church, except they often include a trip to our fave family cheap eats, Tacos A Go Go.

Rule number one: Kids like art better after a tasty meal.

Houston is just jumping with fine children’s arts programs. If I listed them all here, your kids would be grown by the time you finished reading this. Instead, I want to highlight a few that have crossed my path during my time as a CultureMap art sleuth.

It’s Saturday morning, the kids are rested, in a good mood, and have a belly full of organic Cheerios, what should you do? Pack the tots into the car and head directly over to the Wortham Center at 10:30 am for The Adventure of Baroque Music, presented by Mercury Baroque. The early music troupe has had an in-school outreach program for a while now, but this is the first time they have offered a public concert.

“We wanted to expand the program to everyone,” Antoine Plante, Mercury Baroque’s artistic director, says.

The very animated Ana Trevino-Godfrey will lead the festivities, which include an adventure across Europe though music and story. Plante even throws some history in there. It’s 1704, and England is at war with France, which wreaks havoc when Queen Anne’s oboist can’t get a hold of any French wood necessary for making reeds. It’s no wonder Plante makes children a priority audience; he grew up with two early musician parents in a home with 150 period instruments.

Also on Saturday, you can see what Jane Weiner has been up to with Kid’s Play: Skool of Rock at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Barnevelder. Weiner, artistic director of Hope Stone Dance, directs Kid’s Play, a program that includes dance, theater, music, photography and yoga.

“The arts offer so many ways for kids to find their voice,” Weiner says. “Art strengthens, empowers and heals.”

No stranger to working with youth, Weiner directed the Youth Arts Program for at-risk teens at the famed Bates Dance Festival for 15 years. Weiner, who is bit of jokester, suddenly becomes very serious when it comes to young people. “I think children are America’s greatest asset,” Weiner says. “They are like dolphins in that they are smarter than we are.”

Weiner understands. She got hooked on dance watching Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker. ” Watching that sea of white tulle, I was zapped then and there,” she says.

Kid’s Play has been so successful, she’s taking it to New Orleans in June.

When pirouettes trump SpongeBob

Getting youngsters to cozy up to modern dance is no piece of cake. Just ask the Wozny boys, who had fully hoped to go to college on major scholarships from the foundation for “Children who have seen too much modern dance.”

Karen Stokes thinks we need to leave a few crumbs to better decipher dance, so she created Framing Dance, a snappy intro to dance program for schools. Stokes, artistic director of Travesty Dance Group and head of the Dance Division at University of Houston’s School of Theatre & Dance, wants to answer the question “What does it mean?”

“In dance, that often goes unanswered. Dance needs framing because it’s the least accessible and most ephemeral art form,” Stokes says. Whether it’s learning how dance can tell a story or be just about patterns in space, Framing Dance hands children the keys to dance, such that they feel successful in watching it. The response has been huge.

“Laughing, applauding, asking questions, telling us their favorite piece, we just get intoxicated from their reactions,” Stokes says.

Anthony Brandt is super proud of Around the World with Musiqa, an interactive program for elementary school children, now in its sixth year. Brandt isn’t the only one who’s impressed, the program is a three-time National Endowment for the Arts Award winner. “If I have one abiding conviction, it’s that music is not elitist,” Brandt, Musiqa’s artistic director, says. “The people who wrote the music came from every possible background.”

Around the World hones in on folk songs, but here’s the catch, the children have already learned the songs ahead of time because Karol Bennett traveled to each participating school to teach them. “They count on being part of the show,” Brandt says. Today, Musiqa is busy coming up with a middle school program..

InterActive Theater Company’s name says it all. If you want kids to love theater, they need to be onstage helping the story get told. “With InterActive you don’t just see the story, you are part of it,” boasts Angela Foster, InterActive’s director. InterActive has adapted everything from Texas history to poetry. Hallmarks of their method include improvisation, original scripts and actors playing multiple roles.

Check out Peter Pan going on right now. InterActive just wrapped up Peter & the Wolf, their first partnership with River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) at the Children’s Museum. ROCO deserves kudos for ROCOrooters, where kids get to learn and listen, and the parents get to go out to dinner after the show. Smart move ROCO.

Finally, I can’t tell you how much the MFAH has been the Wozny clan’s home away from home. The programs for families, students and educators are a lifeline.

No discussion about young people and art would be complete without a shout out to Ray Carrington III and his students at Jack Yates High School. Carrington puts a camera into the hands of high school students, often for the very first time, to document Houston’s historic Third Ward. Eye on the Third Ward is now a major archive of this evolving neighborhood. How amazing is that?

So get those kids out of the house and into some art. It worked for me. Plus, I got out of baking cookies. I will never forget the time someone asked, “Who is Jackson Pollock?” within earshot of my then 12-year-old.

He launched into a spontaneous lecture on Jackson’s athletic mark making. I thought to myself, “That’s my boy.”

Reprinted from Culturemap

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