Monday 24 September 2012

Guest post: "Inspiring a love for the arts in younger audiences", by Consuelo Hidalgo (Ecuador)

Consuelo Hidalgo is a person full of energy and enthusiasm that makes you feel that everything is possible. And she works hard enough to actually make things happen. Right now she is the right person for the right job. Being the Executive Director of Fundacion Niños con Futuro, she brings together her love for the arts with her love for children. In this text, she is sharing with us the story of her contribution to Ecuador´s future. She is dreaming of and working for a country populated by citizens who are sensitive, creative and genuine critical thinkers. mv

A pre-school student at Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra´s concert for kids. (Photo: Consuelo Hidalgo)

I remember the first time I heard my grandmother tell me in a very enthusiastic way the story of La Traviatta. I was five and very impressed by the plot and the way this passionate music and voices narrated this drama in such a magical, but incomprehensible, way.  This is how I was introduced to the opera, a grandmother’s storytelling game that developed a new way to perceive and understand this art form.

Every art form has a story to tell. For me, having worked for several years in audience development projects for younger people in museums, symphony orchestras and children’s foundations, taught me the importance of the way, quality and frequency of the stories we tell children to get them involved in the arts.

In Ecuador, most of the performing arts activities are free for children, so why are ecuadorian younger audiences so detached from the artistic environment? I think the problem starts with the ‘willingness’ of educational institutions and parents to bring them to a performing arts show or rehearsals (which are almost all open on specific days to the public). My question now is, what is the story we are telling educators and parents about the benefits of attending a performance, and how do local arts institutiosn plan their activities to serve younger audiences? And how sustainable are arts institutions going to be in the years to come, since the arts and music is no longer a mandatory subject in schools and when other kinds of entertainment are being consumed by the population?

Maestro Ivan Fabre (Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra´s first violin) giving a concert for kids at Fundacion Niños con Futuro. (Photo: Consuelo Hidalgo)
We still haven´t got any formal studies on the impact of arts education programmes on younger audiences in Ecuador. Our parametre to measure results is the feedback given by parents and teachers. I clearly remember when my first ‘formal’ arts education programme was taking shape, “Cultura para todos” (Culture for everyone). I was working at the colonial art Museum Nahim Isaias and, as you can imagine, getting kids excited about colonial arts was a very tough call. So, I started playing with concepts used by our curators in our exhibitions that could be presented as a parallel story in a familiar language for pupils. For example, based on a permanent exhibition inspired in iconography, we created a special programme, in accordance with the academic standards established at national and local levels. Each teacher received a worksheet to guide students and was supposed to implement the programme in the classroom, while specific art and iconography concepts were taught during the museum visit.  The programme was designed to support arts learning in classrooms. The purpose of this, as well as of the following young audience development programme at the Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra, was to engage students through a creative approach to education, provide arts experiences for children and empower students with tools of self expression. This experiences included visits to the museum where the children received a special workbook with fun activities, like, crosswords, riddles, and clues to play a mistery game guided by the staff, and visits to the symphony orchestra and strings quartet concerts at their schools, also with a workbook focused on their experience after the concerts. The response we had from teachers and parents was very positive, since they could clearly see an increase in students’ engagement in learning and a more active and sustained appreciation for the arts. The most rewarding experience for us was to see these children coming back with their parents on the weekend (and letting us know they came back), as well as to know that schools that participated in our programmes were know including arts and culture fair in their academic calendar (we were invited to inaugurate eight of these fairs).

This was how, eight years ago, I started developing community-based partnerships, as a means of building the audience required to ensure high-quality arts learning for young people, and settled my goal to improve schools and community capacity to embrace the arts, which would hopefully develop a systemic demand for arts education in the future.

Children from Fundacion Niños con Futuro visit the theatre in Guayaquil. (Photo: Consuelo Hidalgo)
So, what is the story we should be telling society about the importance of arts in children’s lives? Art is a relevant strategy for education in all areas. In early childhood, it enhances creative, reflective and critical thinking. It is a learning tool that stimulates the ability to create and innovate. So, we can certainly say that, through art, children can express their feelings and creativity as they develop critical thinking skills.

The question we are now facing is not one of "education minus art" versus "education plus art," but, rather, what is the quality of the core skills set with which we hope to - and must - equip future generations? Will it be a tool kit designed for the performance of simple practical tasks? Or will it promote, instead, the sort of flexible, imaginative and critical thinking that is required to deal with the complex and ever-shifting challenges posed by the contemporary world? Will it limit its compass to the classroom? Or will it, instead, become a lifelong resource for personal growth and enrichment? Will it make us more aware of the subtle details of life, instead of hungry for all quantifiable consumers’ gratification goods?

Being involved with the arts as a child changed my life forever. I wouldn’t be so active working on this specific matter if it wasn’t so. This is the story I want tell you and, hopefully, I will find similar stories in the future from the generations to come.

Consuelo M. Hidalgo is a journalist. She is currently working as the Executive Director at Fundacion Niños con Futuro. Before that, she worked for 4 years as cultural promoter at The Guayaquil Symphony Orchestra, where she was responsible for audience development programmes, international relations and educational programmes. She started her professional career as PR Manager at the Colonial Art Museum Nahim Isaias, in Guayaquil. During the time she worked at the museum, she developed multiple cultural projects that pursued the integration of people with fewer resources in the museum´s the cultural activities. This project was called Cultura Para Todos and it has been taken to other cities in the country. In 2006 she was offered a position at the MAAC, an anthropologic and contemporary art museum, to manage a new project called Vivir La Cultura - offering free performing arts presentations to the citizens by using regenerated areas of the city as their main stage. In 2008, she participated in the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts International Cultural Exchange Fellows Mentoring Program for Performing Arts Managers. She just finished her Arts management fellowship at the DeVos Arts Management Institute at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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