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Grooming the Next Generation of Culturati

Aspen’s arts organizations are cultivating young performers and audiences, for now and the future.

BRIGHT IDEA
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Folklórico program connects young performers with Mexican folk dance.

Many are familiar with the Aspen Music Festival and School for its summer classical music performances and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation for bringing in nationally known authors. But what flies under the radar about Aspen’s cultural nonprofits—and what each one does at some level—is teach local kids.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass budgeted $150,000 for music education programs in Roaring Fork Valley schools this year, reaching about 1,400 students through funding and supplementary instruction for school bands and choirs, private lessons for young musicians who need it and more. That’s compared to an average annual public music school budget of $1,400. So these nonprofits often fill the void left by declining school budgets.

But they do much more than that. Through interaction with and learning from some of the biggest talents in music, dance, theater, art, film and writing, local kids can build a cultural education that’s second to none.

“We want to build an appreciation for the arts,” says George Eldred, co-director of Aspen Film, which brings filmmakers to valley classrooms and screens topical documentaries in the schools, along with post-screening discussions.

CULTURE CLUB
A student in Theatre Aspen’s youth production of "The Hobbit"

Anderson Ranch Arts Center, for example, is working with the Aspen Community Foundation to introduce after-school art-making activities. 

These programs also have a self-serving purpose. “The more kids we can reach, the better,” says Graham Northrup, education and outreach director for Theatre Aspen, which recently expanded its drama programs to downvalley schools and added student-produced middle and high school productions to its Aspen curriculum. “The more kids we reach, the more are interested in art, and the more become patrons of the arts.”

Here are some other exciting new cultural programs for valley kids.

Jazz Aspen Snowmass
Based on a platform developed by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, JAS began offering digital music-making to Glenwood Middle School students in January, with the hope of expanding the program valleywide this fall. Digital Beats allows kids to work on their own pieces on their own time (resolving the dilemma of trying to get overscheduled kids together frequently), in addition to weekly group practice with a professional music teacher and occasional performances.

“We wanted to create opportunities to keep these kids interested,” says Chris Bank, JAS’ education director. “And this is the new world.”

Aspen Music Festival and School
Three AMFS school programs—Lead Guitar (a classical guitar program), the Maroon Bel Canto Children’s Chorus and Beginning Strings—are expanding valleywide this coming school year, thanks to a challenge and funding by trustees Caryn Scheidt and Bob Hurst.

Sheidt, who has a musically inclined son, noticed that student arts programs weren’t as robust as athletic ones, and challenged AMFS to offer more to the local community, according to Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of AMFS. The organization’s expanded educational programming focuses on participatory opportunities for students from elementary to high school. It supplements programs such as Musical Odysseys Reaching Everyone (known as M.O.R.E.), which will bring accomplished musicians to local schools for seven residencies this year.

“We have importance in the whole world of music, but we want to be grounded in the Roaring Fork Valley,” says Fletcher, who estimates that local educational programming is a roughly quarter-million-dollar part of the organization’s budget.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
ASFB’s popular Mexican folk dance program, Folklórico, expanded this year to Rifle, now reaching more than 220 students from kindergarten through high school.

For kids who have no recollection of nor opportunity to visit their homelands—and may view their background as a disadvantage—Folklórico allows them to explore the richness of their heritage, says ASFB Executive Director Jean-Philippe Malaty, as well as build athletic skills and a sense of pride from sharing their culture through regular public performances.

“Education is at the core of our mission,” says Malaty. “That’s what the organization started with, a ballet school. And if it wasn’t us, who would do it?”

Aspen Writers’ Foundation
Authors who come for AWF events or residencies give readings in local schools. These one-time stints are meant to inspire students and “reconfirm what their teachers tell them: that they can use their voices in unique ways,” says Renee Prince, AWF’s new education programs associate.

Since 2013, one of AWF’s writer residencies brings in two spoken-word artists specifically to work in schools. Poets Myrlin Hepworth and Logan Phillips teach workshops, perform at all-school assemblies and lead a poetry slam with middle and high schoolers from Aspen to Glenwood—reaching 3,000 kids during their two-week visit.

The program has impacted many students profoundly, as the artists “really energize students around poetry,” says Prince, “and spoken word has a way of allowing youth to find their voices, giving them a space to say what they want to say.”

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ARTS FOR ALL
Aspen’s cultural performances are not just for adults. Kids’ and kid-friendly performances are a standard part of the summer cultural repertoire—often appealing to all ages. –CL

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet offers hourlong family matinees, versions of the evening performances curated to appeal to the younger set. For its second family performance this summer, ASFB presents Batoto Yetu, a children’s African dance troupe from Harlem that will share the stage with the young Folklórico dancers in a spirited and inspiring performance. July 26, 4PM, $25, Aspen District Theatre, 335 High School Road, 970.920.5770

The Aspen Musical Festival and School includes several age-appropriate options—all free—to introduce children to classical music. Music Festival students accompany storytelling at the Pitkin County Library (120 N. Mill St.) every Thursday (July 24 & 31, Aug. 7, 10:30am). The Peanut Butter and Jam session mini-concert (July 29, 4:30pm, Bucksbaum Campus, 300 Music School Road) is an interactive way for children ages 2 to 6 to learn about the orchestra and each instrument in it. Gotta Move! (Aug. 4, 10:30am, Bucksbaum Campus) gets kids involved in singing, dancing and playing instruments. There’s even a free family concert in the Benedict Music Tent (Aug. 14, 5pm, 960 N. Third St.), preceded by kids’ activities and snacks starting an hour beforehand in the adjacent hospitality tent. 

One of Theatre Aspen’s three summer productions is an all-ages show, with some performances scheduled at the family-friendly hour of 10am. This summer it’s Little Women, the Broadway musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel. Multiple performances through Aug. 16, $25-$85, Hurst Theater, 470 Rio Grande Place, 844.706.7387