It was all smiles and dancing when Fund for the Arts donors Catherine & Gordon’s visited Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School to see students participate in their Louisville Ballet residency led by Stacey Blakeman.

Continue reading to learn more about their visit!

Written by Fund for the Arts donors Drs. Catherine Newton and Gordon Strauss

At the end of November, we had an extraordinary experience on a Friday afternoon at ML King Elementary School in the Shawnee Park neighborhood.  We sat in on the culminating performance by third, fourth and fifth graders at King as they showed kids in the three younger grades what they learned about dance, movement and ballet as part of the Fund for the Arts’ 5X5 enrichment program.

Over the preceding nine school days these students had learned from and been inspired by Stacey Blakeman, the arts educator for the Louisville Ballet.  Ms. Blakeman, who led the program on the day we visited, was everything you hope for in an educator: energetic, enthusiastic, incredibly knowledgeable and able to present that knowledge in a way that clearly connected with the young students.  A former dancer, it was clear she could and did lead by example.

The students’ performance recapitulated their two-week ballet and movement journey.  They started by demonstrating a variety of warmup exercises and moved on to large and small ensemble pieces, including some that groups of four-to-six students choreographed themselves.  The final “number” was a version of Alvin Ailey’s dance for the spiritual tune “Wade in the Water.”

After the formal performances concluded, the “audience” of younger students were given a chance to comment and to ask questions of the performers.  This too was skillfully moderated by Ms. Blakeman (who came to the Ballet four (?) years ago from the San Francisco Ballet).  At the end of the afternoon we were presented with posters and hand-written thank-you cards from the students (they had been tipped off that we help underwrite the 5X5 program at King Elementary).

We have supported the Fund’s 5X5 program at King for several years.  The program is designed to provide arts enrichment by assuring that every student gets at least five arts and culture experiences by the end of the fifth grade.  Besides the Louisville Ballet, other Fund for the Arts partner organizations in theater, music and visual arts engage students in performances and workshops through the year.  These occur during the regular school day and are designed to connect to and complement the Kentucky  Core Content.  In addition to Jefferson County Public Schools, 5X5 is offered in schools in New Albany and Clark County Indiana schools.

The 5X5 program appealed to us for several reasons.  As subscribers to the Louisville Orchestra and Actors Theater as well as members of the Speed Art Museum and the Center for the Arts, our lives are enhanced by the richness and variety of our city’s vibrant arts community.  We see the 5X5 program as one way to nurture an awareness of and a love for the arts.  We also have participated on the boards of two local arts organizations which are strongly committed to arts education: the Louisville Visual Arts Association and Kentucky Shakespeare.   And now, having seen the workings of the 5X5 program in person, we are more enthusiastic than ever!

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