Children and the Arts: When to introduce?

Mary Ellen O’Loughlin, Executive Director, SaratogaArtsFest

The question — what is the right way and when is the right time to expose children to the arts?

So.  A little background and full disclosure: I am passionate about exposing children of all ages to arts experiences, and I spend a great deal of my personal time to make those experiences positive. The author of the below post is among other things a professional and a mom. She is well respected by those who have the privilege of knowing her.

The Philadelphia Orchestra performs each summer at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) located in Saratoga Springs, NY. Performances span a three week period and provide a variety of offerings for diverse audiences. Friday nights happen to be billed as the Family Night Series, sponsored by CDPHP. Classical performances are further sponsored by the General Electric Kids in Free program. One of the biggest challenges for the arts today is declining audiences in younger demographics.

I invite you to read on and weigh in whether you have kids or not:

Family night is great but can be miserable if other patrons don’t want you there, regardless of how well behaved your kids may be. We have four now and we often get unsolicited comments about having our hands full without people actually considering how good they are. I run a very tight ship because I refuse to be stranded at home.

Last night we attended the orchestra. I held my 7+ month old, my husband held his twin sister and the 5 and 7 year old sat between us. I made sure that they sat still, were comfortable to prevent whining and made sure they kept their feet off the seats in front of them.

A man, his wife and mother sat in front of us and after the performance started, the mother yelled at someone for talking. I don’t use yell lightly- she actually said “shut up”. At intermission the man in front of us pointed his finger at my five-year old daughter and snapped “Would you stop kicking my seat young lady?” He didn’t address me or her father- he tore into a five year old and clearly scared her. I snapped back at him not to speak to her, to speak to me. I would have apologized and prevented a problem if there was one but he didn’t give us that opportunity. My husband and I had words with him, then the man stood up and faced us until we packed up and left just before 9 p.m. We have stayed later in the past and the kids still behaved. To say this was an unnerving experience is an understatement.

What irritates me is the negative impression left on my children. They could associate this event with some scary, intolerant guy but we won’t let that happen. We’ll go back. So guy, you might lighten up and consider being more tolerant because we have to tolerate you too. Please be aware that it’s family night and the reason they have free ice cream and goody bags is because kids are welcome, even encouraged to attend. Be mindful that that they are kids and they need to be taught to appreciate the arts, just like you were. Be grateful that I didn’t park them in front of the TV for the night, or 10-18 years- we took them out to a performance. The arts need children as much as children need the arts.


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