Thursday, November 03, 2005

What is NOT arts-in-education or the truth about "Louder, Faster, Funnier"

Soapbox time.

We just returned from a school that had recently been burned by a performer who billed his act incorrectly as arts-in-education. I'm sorry, but that does all of us a diservice. In this case, it hurt the cultrual arts representative the most because she was embarrassed in front of her children's teachers and principal. The artist in question is someone we know, so I want to be purposely vague here. Suffice it to say that most of the cultural arts rep's that we know would not come in to contact with this fellow in their search for artists. He's more of a camp performer and I rarely see him associated with schools.

BEWARE the camp performers! They are talented people who are expert in making kids laugh. We call these folks, "Louder, Faster, Funnier". Many of us kids performers have elements of LFF in our acts, but it's not usually rich enough to have a show of all funny material in the average elementary school assembly program. Yes, family nights are an exception. And most cultural arts rep's know to call for references, see the performance beforehand, etc.

I have to compliment the school's arts rep. She called me before our show and explained that she had recently presented a performer who did not go over well and asked if we could change our show in order to turn 180 degrees away from what this other performer had done (said perfomer did a supposed character education show and we were scheduled to do the same). Together, the cultural arts rep. and I settled on a different program about literacy and I am happy to report that the show went extremely well, the teachers were thrilled and the cultural arts rep's reputation has been restored.

I wish I could report that this is a first for us or the schools we've played for. It ain't! Truth is, lots of schools hire GREAT arts-in-education performers every day, BUT some of them get ambushed when they aren't careful about checking out a performer. It is a life-changing experience for a cultural arts rep. when your teachers complain and your principal looks at you like you failed him. And all of this for a non-paid position! I feel terrible for these women. They are the essence of middle managers (caught between the children, the performers, the teachers and the principal) and they get a lot of grief from all sides. It's a wonder some of them stay with the jobs!

Some don't stay, of course. We have some wonderful relationships with schools where the arts rep. has been there through three children. What a joy! This is a job that definitely gets easier as you do it more often. Plus, one usually develops trust from the administration and the teachers and a relationship with a stable of performers.

I'll get into this more at another time, but it's my opinion that arts reps booking assembly programs should have 50% of their acts be artists who they repeat year after year (or every other year) and 50% new acts. Variety and consistency have to both be served in a successful arts program. For those schools doing lots of grade-level residencies, they can have even a larger percentage of returning artists. It's also worth mentioning that because this position is a voluntary one, it should not be made too difficult. If an artist is successful (90% of the people give it a "5" on a scale of "1-5"), then by all means repeat the success. "If it ain't broke..."

This may sound like a self-serving thing to promote because I benefit from the school's that have me return regularly. This is true. However, they don't have us back ONLY because they feel warm and fuzzy about Beth and Scott. There's something we're doing every song, every performance, year after year that's working. What is that? Well, that's the essence of what arts-in-education IS and that's a subject for a later time.


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