By Kathi E.B. Ellis.
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
Lincoln Elementary School sits between Main and Market Streets in an area of Louisville identified as NuLu, a recently-burgeoning corridor of arts and cultural businesses. For the past two years Lincoln Elementary has been re-branded as a Performing Arts Magnet, and this week the school’s brand new performing arts wing was officially opened with a ceremony and performances to recognize this day.
In comments during the ceremony officials, educators and advocates emphasized the unique nature of a performing arts magnet at the elementary level. The Dance Theatre of Harlem, which conducted a residency at Lincoln during a recent performance at The Kentucky Center, was quoted as saying that they had not experienced a school like Lincoln in all the touring and teaching they undertake throughout the country.
The brand new foyer bridging the original school and the performing arts wing was a vibrant, crowded space on Wednesday, January 18. The Steve Crews Trio played music as people gathered, filling the lobby to Standing Room Only capacity. Lincoln students filled the stairways, the walkways and the ground level. Invited guests found a handful of reserved seats close to the podium, and others crowded in around the cameras recording the event.
It was a time of thank you’s: to the board of education; to district personnel; to contractors; to the arts organizations partnering with the school; to the neighborhood; and, most importantly, to the students, teachers and parents who make up the Lincoln community. Principal Susan French got the proceedings rolling as close to the 1 p.m. start time as was possible, recognizing board members in attendance and the all-important arts partners. Two particular recognitions generated spontaneous applause and cheers from the students: long-time Lincoln Principal Sonja Unseld, and retired Director of Performing Arts Magnets Tim King – a reminder of the power of positive adults in the life of children.
District 1 Board Member Diane Porter was one of many speakersa to acknowledge the students, garnering the first of several rounds of applause for the young people in the room. She spoke passionately about the renaissance at Lincoln before introducing JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens. Ms. Hargens made a strong case for the centrality of arts integration within a school day, citing her belief that creativity would be the currency of the 21st Century. Representing the arts partners, Jeffrey Jamner, Director of School Programs for The Kentucky Center, made a personal statement of the power of the arts to change our lives. As the room became quiet, he related his experience in kindergarten of being “that” student for whom traditional modes of teaching didn’t reach – until the day his teacher played piano, registered his response, and encouraged his parents to begin piano lessons.
Chris Poynter, Mayor Fischer’s spokesperson, represented the city and energized the room by asking the students who would be the next great ballerina, actor, singer – and there was no shortage of hands shooting up to take on that mantle – and topped the excitement by delivering the Proclamation from the Mayor’s Office to a group of students sitting close to the podium. The ribbon cutting was a group effort, including two student representatives.
Immediately following the cutting, guests were invited in to the spacious black box theatre to view student performances. All four of the performing arts genres taught at the school were represented: dancers performed a tap routine to the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” an energetic and precise ensemble; the Orff ensemble played Carl Orff’s “Ding Dong” and Brent Holl’s “Tick Tock,” demonstrating multiple rhythms in counterpoint; drama was represented with an excerpt from Macbeth, the three weird sisters; and the choir performed “Shake the Papaya Down” by R. Dwyer. The performances were greeted enthusiastically by the audience. Throughout, the students demonstrated professionalism, including the ten-minute hiatus before the performance while Dr. Hargens was interviewed. Principal French recognized the four full-time arts teachers: Harlina Churn-Diallo (dance); Lynn Gregory (drama); Tammy Gibson (choir); and Penelope Quesada (instrumental).
The event was completed with a reception in the equally-spacious drama room and tours of the facility which includes piano labs, music room, two dance studios and private classrooms, in addition to the drama facilities already mentioned. Playing in the reception area was a promotional video about Lincoln’s programming. Impressive as are the facilities and the full-time arts staff, the testimonials of the parents and students truly represent the strength of this unique initiative of arts-integration at an elementary school.
Kathi E.B. Ellis is a member of the Lincoln Center and Chicago Directors’ Labs and an associate member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. She has attended the LaMama Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy, and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding Southern Artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for the South Florida Theatre Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and is part of ShoeString Productions an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for the JCPS textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course, and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.