Through unique collaborations, some of the valley’s top creatives engage children in a variety of artistic experiences.
Written by Temple Kinyon
From Broadway musicals to ballet, symphony, and fine art, Las Vegas offers audiences all types of cultural exposure. But did you know amazing performance and educational opportunities like these exist for Clark County’s youth? Through unique collaborations, some of the valley’s top creatives engage children in a variety of artistic experiences while offering underserved children opportunities they may not otherwise have. These interactions plant seeds of inspiration and, potentially, a life-long love of the arts.
Disney Musicals in Schools (DMIS) gives underserved grade-school children the chance to explore their creative side. In 2013, the Disney Theatrical Group presented The Smith Center a $100,000 grant for outreach through DMIS. “At the heart of The Smith Center mission is dedication to providing meaningful education experiences,” says Candy Schneider, VP Education and Outreach. “DMIS works with CCSD administrators and staff at high-needs schools to grow a sustainable theatre program.”
The first year, five schools participated in producing a 30-minute musical adaptation of a Disney classic like “Jungle Book” or “Aladdin.” DMIS provided performance rights and educational support materials at no cost. Teaching artists were in the schools and provided guidance to administrators and staff committed to learning the theatrical process. After auditioning, the chosen students practiced and learned the magic of Disney for six months.
Each school hosted a community day, bringing parents together to build sets, create costumes, and offer expertise. The student actors presented final productions to their classmates and families. Each school also presented one song from their musical in an uplifting Student Share Celebration at Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center.
This year, DMIS selected different schools to continue the program. By then, the original five schools were fully capable to continue and sustain their own theatrical programs. Using the remaining dollars from the original grant coupled with additional funding, The Smith Center will continue with a third year in 2015-2016.
Reynolds Hall is also home to the Las Vegas Philharmonic (LVP) and its Youth Concert Series (YCS), which provide underserved elementary students exposure to the orchestral music experience. During its 16 years, YCS has reached more than 180,000 elementary-age students at CCSD Title 1 and other schools—more than 16,000 in 2015—with 10 concerts during a five day run. CCSD provides buses to shuttle students to and from The Smith Center at no cost to them or their parents.
Prior to YCS week, the philharmonic hosts their Young Artists Concerto Competition during which accomplished young musicians compete for an opportunity to work with the LVP and ultimately perform with them on-stage. When YCS takes place, students watch in awe as they experience the live classical concert and the Concerto Competition winner performing with the entire philharmonic.
“We’re committed to enriching children through outreach and YCS,” advises Amy Wiles, VP for LVP Development. “YCS may inspire them to become a musician or to just love music or go into any creative field. Our three-year goal is to double the number of concerts and students we’re able to bring in for free concerts.”
Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT) also seeks to inspire kids through their “GO-MOVE-DANCE!!!” program. For 28 weeks, students in underserved elementary schools receive free ballet, jazz, and hip-hop instruction, all of which help to develop and improve the students’ balance, flexibility, and athleticism. In addition the program aids to bolster self-esteem and foster a strong work ethic.
The program affords NBT an opportunity to discover talented at-risk students and offer scholarships to their Discovery Dance program, a six-level series of ballet classes in a focused atmosphere. A select few dancers may then be considered by NBT to continue on to the Future Dance program at the Academy, again via scholarship. Recipients are placed in the Academy according to age and skill level. All students must abide by a strict set of rules and guidelines to show their commitment to a future in ballet.
As founder of Art Classes for Kids, Kim Bavington’s students are typically enrolled through the support of their parents. But, on occasion she’s presented an opportunity to offer assistance to a child showing artistic talent who may not be able to afford professional instruction. “I sometimes give a camp scholarship to a child who’s passionate, self-motivated, and will benefit in our unique environment.”
Bavington and her instructors teach kids ages 3-15 the fundamentals and history of fine art in either one-on-one or group classes or through summer camp. “Students get so engaged with their creating that sometimes they don’t even realize they’re learning about a famous painter or current art trend,” Bavington says. “There are no grades or contests in my classes. My students learn by doing in a structured environment and through conversational learning which allows room for expression.”
The Las Vegas Performing Arts Initiative (LVPAI) offers a unique learning experience for students of all ages in drama, voice, dance, percussion, musical theatre, and circus arts. They provide school workshops and an annual summer camps at an affordable rate. LVPAI also looks for opportunities to help children with session costs when ever possible.
“LVPAI is a cultural treasure for young people interested in the performing arts. It provides an invaluable platform for leaders in the performing arts arena to share their knowledge and expertise with our youth. By harnessing and sharing one of Vegas’ richest resources, our astounding community of celebrated artists, LVPAI is able to expand horizons and inspire young creative hopefuls. Immersed in excellence, the impossible becomes possible.”
— Dr. Kate Hausbeck Korgan, Ph.D., Interim Dean of the Graduate College, UNLV
All of the instructors who collaborate with LVPAI are world-class performers, choreographers, and directors working today. To date, more than 50 artists from shows that include Blue Man Group, So You Think You Can Dance, Céline Dion, Mystère, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Mamma Mia, O, Love, Zarkana, Kooza, Jabbawockeez, Chicago, Iris, Le Rêve, and Michael Jackson ONE have contributed their time and expertise to LVPAI.
Research demonstrates children exposed to arts have higher academic achievement as well as improved health and self-esteem. The Smith Center, NBT, and LVPAI, along with creative entrepreneurs like Kim Bavington, have embraced the importance of those benefits and are a driving force behind cultural opportunities for all of Clark County young people.