Investing in imagination

ARTS 4 Youth is a collaborative program available to all schools in the area.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” – Albert Einstein.

What sparks your imagination? Or more specifically, what sparks your imagination in Federal Way? As an artist, I tend to be curious, appreciate a good movie, reading, sharing ideas with friends and recently enjoying performances at the Performing Arts and Event Center.

The imagination-generating potential of the PAEC is best seen through the eyes of a child. In December, my wife and I went to the Nutcracker Ballet presented by the Tacoma City Ballet. The nearly sold-out performance had lots of children in the audience. In front of us was a family from Lakewood, with a 4-year-old girl who danced with joy throughout the performance, first in her seat and eventually in the aisle. She was not the only one. It was a very energized event.

I believe there is a performer hidden in all of us. As adults, we sometimes forget the importance of a good story, moving to music at a live performance, being impressed by the athleticism and grace of dancers, the energy of live theater or the impact of visual art. Art is an experience that is meant to be enjoyed in the moment and in your imagination for a lifetime.

Can you remember your first experience at a live performance? Was it with your family or through your school? Was it a theater production, a symphony orchestra, ballet, choral concert or rock and roll band? If you remember it, it changed you.

One of the reasons the PAEC received as much financial support as it did from federal, state, county and local resources is because of its potential to present performance art to youth. While many of us know about the PAEC’s performance and event capabilities, most know very little about its ARTS 4 Youth program.

Making the arts accessible to the youth of Federal Way is a significant benefit to our schools, region and the imaginations of the next generation. TheEdvocate.org, an online education magazine, stated in a recent Matthew Lynch article, titled, “Why Art and Creativity Are Important for Kids”: “Schools that eliminate art programs are doing so at their peril. No one questions foundation subjects like reading and math for the development of competent citizens, but not enough people are inquiring about how important art and creativity are for kids. The importance is paramount. Arts and creativity nurture well-being and assist learners in creating connections between subjects.”

ARTS 4 Youth is a collaborative program available to all schools in the area. It is a carefully planned school-day excursion that brings students, teachers and parent chaperones to the PAEC for an hour-long performance presented by several of the contracted traveling shows. The students see an age-appropriate show that is unquestionably professional.

The hour-long performances are configured to match and support state-defined core curriculum subjects. They come with study guides and support materials designed for engagement prior to the performance as well as enabling the experience to be deepened when they return to their classroom.

This is a major event for many students, especially if it is their first exposure to live performance in a significant setting. The schools have lots of logistics to coordinate for this magical experience to happen, beginning with using the study materials provided that dovetail into defined aspects of the core curriculum, getting permission slips signed, resourcing parent chaperones, bus arrivals, transport, head counts, settling into seats and taking in the performance itself.

All this for the bargain price of $5 per ticket. The reason for the modest cost, rather than no cost, is to ensure school commitment and to offset minor expenses. Also, this education outreach opportunity is available because the performers involved want these student interactions included in their contracts as part of their performance mission. Therefore, the program is structured to be cost neutral to the PAEC.

Support from the Federal Way Performing Arts Foundation ensures that students are not left behind due to finances, school PTA or school district ability to cover even a modest per-ticket cost. The scholarship subsidies, when provided, are scalable based on the percentage of the participating school’s enrollment in federal subsidized lunch programs.

Tacoma, Federal Way, Auburn, Kent each have poverty rates of nearly 15 percent or greater and more than 50 percent of their school district student populations are eligible for federal subsidized lunch programs. The ARTS 4 Youth program is designed to stimulate thinking skills, create connections between subjects and provide a life experience. It transports the young mind into the realm of imagination and allows the art of live performance to seize the moment.

The participating performing artist groups can perform up to three one-hour events within the school day schedule. This means the PAEC and its ARTS4 Youth program can potentially reach 2,100 students per performance day. For all students who attend, the return on investment is potentially significant.

Achieving a full house for these performances is the goal and dependent on coordinating program offerings with several area school districts. Historically, area schools have taken their students for art performances to venues in Bellevue, Auburn, Tacoma and several others, but the Federal Way PAEC is now an option. It will become a desired and well-used destination for student art programs.

The PAEC is evolving into the regional resource it was designed to be. It is altering, through the ARTS 4 Youth program as well as other events, the provincial perception some communities have of Federal Way. School-age children’s lives are being enriched, and the city has positioned itself regionally to be a quality destination for performance art. This is a win-win for Federal Way.

The Federal Way Performing Arts Foundation, as a scholarship program supporter, is poised to make a significant difference in the lives of this region’s youth for many years by investing in imagination. The foundation’s efforts in support of ARTS 4 Youth is helping Federal Way’s PAEC realize its potential as a valued cultural resource.

If you want to contribute to the scholarship program and invest in the imaginations of our region’s school-age youth, go to fwpaec.org and locate the ARTS4Youth drop-down box.

Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.

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