How to get some enjoyment from the arts

As an arts marketer, I read a lot of reports / studies / plans that will probably sit on someone’s bookshelf and not really make a difference in the average person’s life. But, as a parent, I know that it’s important to expose my children to cultural activities. I think many parents are really overwhelmed and intimidated at how much is ‘out there’ and trying to prioritize in a time-starved society.

Making sense of the numbers: I don’t know what ‘culture’ really is, but my kid should experience it, right?

In the past few years, both the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts have recently commissioned work on building public arts engagement. The brilliant Alan Brown, of Wolf Brown, has a zest for life that is contagious, and is passionate about not only the arts, but the people who produce art and participate in art. Reading Wolf Brown’s Ontario Arts Engagement Study summary does not adequately reflect Alan’s enthusiasm for developing audiences.

The big “wow” numbers in this report was that “…99% of Ontarians engage at least once a year in any of the ten music activities included in the survey. The same is true for visual arts, crafts and film activities (98% prevalence) and also of reading and writing activities (99% prevalence). Over two-thirds of Ontarians engage at least once a year in any of the seven dance activities included in the survey, and 64% of Ontarians engage at least once a year in any of the five theatre activities included in the survey.”

This is music to the ears of arts presenters, but as a Mom, I think children like to participate in arts and culture activities more than just once a year. Just because you have a child and want him to grow up to be the best that he can be (or at least make enough money to help you in your golden years) doesn’t mean that cultural activities need to be overwhelming, hard to access, expensive or complicated. Here are a few ideas for both you and your family to learn and have fun – and not break the bank.

1. Go out of your comfort zone. My son is up for anything, but when I was pulled up onstage at a children’s theatre conference, I thought I would die of embarrassment. We get less and less risky as we get older, so try something that makes you feel uncomfortable, and you may discover something wonderful! Some of my more squeamish thoughts include an improv class, a dance workshop, and a painting class. These are definitely going on my list for the future.

2. Hire a university student to teach you or your kids a new skill.  If you want to learn how to play clarinet or make a movie on an IMac, why not try it out and give a student some beer money? Your child doesn’t have to start taking cello lessons from the principal of the orchestra. Just post an ad on Kijiji or Craig’s list, or contact the appropriate department of your local college or university for a recommendation.

3. Take your kids to a student matinee or program. Many arts organizations (thankfully) offer programs for school groups. The programs are not always full, and while on maternity leave, I was able to bring my kids for a reduced price to school performances at our local theatre.  Another option is to encourage your child’s class to attend a program and assist them in fundraising to help make it happen.

4. Volunteer with a cultural organization with or without your kids. Cultural organizations ALWAYS need volunteers. Showing your children how to experience culture first hand – while offering a helping hand – is a great gift to yourself. Our local theatre uses volunteer ushers and then they get to see the shows for free. Also, you can check out, a great site that encourage micro-volunteering from your own home.

5.  Suggest programming ideas to your local arts organization. If you have an idea for a program or event, or if you have experience something in another place that would be worth sharing, pass it along to the programming folks. It’s amazing how little feedback arts administrators actually receive from their audiences. An easy way to share ideas with them is via email or through Facebook pages. They always appreciate new ideas.

6. Discover Pinterest and try something that’s new, creative and cheap! I peruse Pinterest boards with my son to see images of do-it-yourself art projects, recipes and other fun things on the cheap. I am not particularly crafty, but getting our creative juices flowing while upcycling or repurposing has proven to be both challenging and fun.

7. Find free or pay-what-you-can events. Thank goodness there are so many other passionate souls out there who offer free programming to engage the community. From the pan-Canadian Culture Days movement to free museum nights, pay-what-you-can theatre and free outdoor festivals, there are amazing opportunities to experience culture without paying a lot.

8. Hang out in a new part of town. Even in my small City, there are a lot of areas that my family rarely visit. We now try to go to events across town to see new faces, try new food, and just experience something different than what is found in our own backyard.

9. Populate social media with your experiences, reviews and thoughts. Artists and cultural organization want any chatter – whether it’s negative or not. Share your photos, reviews, opinions and ideas with your network and your local organization on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram to get the affect change and keep the conversation going.

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