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A Taste of the Arts Beforehand

Today through Wednesday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Bella Lewitzky and her adventurous company will introduce some 20,000 public school kids to the world of modern dance. If you went to school in Los Angeles before the district’s arts programs suffered their most draconian funding cuts in the early 1980s, you may recall having been hauled off to galleries to see what looked like splotches of color on canvas or to concert halls to hear what sounded like troubled adults singing in strange languages. Times have changed.

What’s special about this week’s events is that they’re part of a festival sponsored by the Blue Ribbon, a support group for the Music Center that since 1970 has been helping educators teach children about the arts before their field trips. When the youngsters bus away from the Pavilion this week, they will have done more than witness grown-ups shambling, strutting and stomping. They will have studied modern dance beforehand, practiced a few movements themselves and listened to Lewitzky’s dancers talk about why and how they step the way they do.

Arts education has taken some heavy hits: The number of music supervisors in California’s school districts, for example, fell from 400 in 1978 to 41 in 1987, and the total has risen little since. Admittedly, public arts schooling may seem a luxury at a time when funding for even the three R’s appears to be in jeopardy. But private support continues to flow generously from local institutions like the Blue Ribbon and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts. They recognize, as education professor Howard Gardner puts it, that the arts not only ground children in our culture, they boost their “musical, spatial, kinesthetic, logical and interpersonal intelligences.” Precisely, professor.


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