Most schools have a PTA which allocates money for cultural arts assemblies. I did not realize this last year until I became the Asian Culture Chair at my son’s school. And then I found out there are dozens of performers in the area who perform at schools.
Last spring I contacted the committee chairs of the Cultural Arts and Assemblies committee and offered up my money for next school year (this year now) if I could persuade the committee to have an Asian performer. They were agreeable to it (yeah!). One of the co-chairs had a child graduating from elementary school and the one who still had a child in school asked me if I would like to be on the committee. Yes, Yes, that sounds great. So for this school season I am now Co-Chairman of the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee. And my co-chair has a child graduating in May 2014, so I will need to find another parent interested in cultural arts to do this with me. I’m not sure I like the idea of making decisions to spend money on cultural arts without a co-chair to help decide on acts to hire.
I then asked the webmaster of the PTA site if I could get an account so I could update our Cultural Arts and Assemblies website with the names of the performers for the last 5 years, which my co-chair provided to me. They work in WordPress, (which this blog is written in) so it was easy to just make a page that contains all the information. So now and going forward our school has a list of performers to help us make decisions about future performers.
There are a couple different places that Montgomery County Schools get performers. On days throughout September and October MCPS has “Cultural Arts Showcases” in which between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm different performers are scheduled to perform every 15 minutes. They don’t get long, but they give you and idea of what their performance would be like. I attended a couple of hours of one of the showcases. But best of all the whole thing is filmed and Montgomery County puts up the video of that 15 minute performance. So if you weren’t there, you can see the video of the performance.
In the last 5 years, our school had had African American/ African performers three times and zero times an Asian performer or program. I have to say there are many more African programs on the list of performances than any other ethnic group and they look like fantastic performances.
But after looking at the list of shows the school had had in the last 5 years, I suggested we needed to have Latin American and Asian performers since we had not had either. But there are so many shows to choose from, we may only get back to having another Asian performer in 3 years.
But the benefit from being on the Cultural Arts Committee is having some sway in saying which performances come to the school. We can’t always have an ethnic performance. I saw three really good performances of American Music, one was folk, another was old time folk and another was jazz at the Culture Arts Showcase. My son’s elementary school did not have any performances of American music in the last 5 years, so next year I will push for an American music performer.
Class Acts Arts and Young Audiences of Maryland along with Washington Performing Arts Society provide most of the entertainers for Montgomery County schools. The Young Audiences of Maryland website has a really easy interface to find Asian performers or Asian themes from non-Asian performers. Class Acts doesn’t have as easy of interface, so you can browse through their catalog, but I have found it easier to call and ask about Asian themed performances.
Montgomery County Public Schools has a whole process of selecting and showcasing the talent. They put out a catalog. Some of the performers are local and some of them travel and have specific dates to perform in the area. The showcases have been during the day, but many of them are viewable online and next year they plan to have some evening showcases. One of the showcases was on a school holiday and I brought my 6 year old. We couldn’t stay all day, but some of the performances he liked. All of the performances are 15 minutes so you only get the gist of the performance.
At Back to School Night, no one signed up to be on the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee except me (and I was recruited) and the person who has been on it for years. It may be the same at your child’s school. I was surprised that I had two parents who signed up to be on the Asian Culture Committee this year. This is the second year of the Asian Culture Committee. Anyway the Cultural Arts and Assemblies PTA committee is a way to influence culture in schools. I only wish we had twice or four times as much money as we do, but alas, our school can only afford 2 – 3 back-to back performances a year.
I offered up some of the money that is allocated to Asian and Pacific culture committee to the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee as a way to persuade that committee to choose an Asian themed performance before I was even on that committee. With that contribution along with some funding from the state, our school will be able to have a third back-to-back performance. And this time we had a limited palette of performers who are eligible for state funding and within our price point. But we have selected a storyteller who tells Ancient Greek stories.
So all in all I will have influenced who the school sees for three assemblies. Had I not decided to be on this committee, I’m pretty sure that an Asian performer would not have been chosen to perform.
So if you are looking for a way to influence performances at your child’s school, then maybe being on the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee is something to consider. Besides reviewing acts and deciding on performers, it is mostly emailing to the school coordinator of the master calendar and the vendors who manage the performers and getting the appropriate PTA members to sign contracts and write a check. And for the one assembly we are getting state funding on, I will need to attend and write an evaluation of the performance.