School’s starting up again around here, and for those with kids at home, I bet a fair number of kitchen-table conversations are underway about extra-curricular activities, like what to take on, how much to pay for them and where to find the right fit for each kid’s inclinations? Given the budget squeeze faced by St. Paul’s public schools, parents serious about arts education would be well advised to look beyond the classroom — when cuts-hungry administrators and legislators are desperate to balance their books, eliminating (or dramatically cutting) funds for arts instruction inevitably enters the conversation. The good news is Minnesota’s capital city offers a wealth of youth cultural programming, intriguing children’s classes and workshops covering a wide range of visual and performing arts. Browse around a bit, and you’ll find there are plenty of options, suited to just about any household budget and interest. Below are just a few ideas for some places your kids might start their cultural explorations.
If you’re thinking of beginning music lessons, the Minneapolis-based MacPhail Center of Music is an obvious and well-regarded choice for both class and individual instruction. But St. Paul’s McNally Smith College of Music also partners with local schools to provide topical faculty clinics for students — on, say, songwriting or improvisation, music theory or recording and production — in the classroom. Alternately, the college invites schools to bring students on-campus to find out more about professional artists at work: they can participate in artist-in-the-industry seminars or watch a performance, even witness a live recording session.
If traditional fare isn’t your budding musician’s cup of tea, why not check out what’s going on at the School of Rock? Like the one-off school-sponsored offerings of McNally Smith, School of Rock offers a number of opportunities for kids to dip a toe in without putting much on the line; rather than committing to a full series of lessons, the curious can attend a one-time workshop in slide guitar, maybe, or go to an open jam. (As the parent of a kid with intense but fickle interests, I know I appreciate the chance to ease in and test the waters before making a big investment of time or money.)
And what if the stage is calling? SteppingStone Theatre has an attractive and varied line-up of classes for young thespians, from 3 to 18 years of age, including “Fall Fun Days,” to keep kids creatively occupied during the annual three-day break from school in October, Saturday afternoon classes for the youngest enthusiasts and intensive training for the aspiring theater professional.
For those in pursuit of more physically active performance, why not look beyond the usual tumbling and gymnastics classes to the eye-popping dance and performing arts taught by Circus Juventas? If Cirque du Soleil captures your child’s imagination, consider the sense of accomplishment to be gained by learning for oneself how to walk the high wire, fly on the trapeze or twist in the aerial silks. Even better, there are a number of scholarships available for students interested in taking classes at Circus Juventas, making this incredibly cool performing arts resource accessible to children from families at all income levels.
Visual arts opportunities for children are well represented by the community and educational programming offered through area museums and galleries, of course, but parents should also be sure to check out the smaller, neighborhood-based organizations as well. For example, St. Paul’s ArtStart is a terrific nonprofit dedicated to providing hands-on cultural experiences, like the “ScrapMobile” community art-making workshops, classes combining art and ecology, special festivals, poetry readings and art exhibits.
For kids living in St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff and Payne/Phalen neighborhoods, the EastSide Arts Council offers ArtsYES, an array of free arts programs which aim to provide high-quality, interdisciplinary, skill-building arts classes for any child, regardless of means; there are a variety of professional artist-led after-school and summertime programs for those interested in pursuing visual arts, dance, spoken word, theater and music.
Of course, this is but a sampling of what’s available. St. Paul offers an abundance of arts programming for kids, with much of it being free or inexpensive. You just need to know where to look. In that spirit, I’d love to get tips from parents and families exploring such opportunities — for those of you raising children in the St. Paul area, what civic and educational arts and cultural resources for families and children have you come to rely on that you might recommend to your friends and neighbors?