East Dallas residents don’t have to go to the Meyerson Symphony Center for first-class concerts. East Dallas children will let you visit their schools to share performances of the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Children’s Theater or the Shakespeare Festival.

A recently released report by the Dallas Coalition for the Arts shows that 24 cultural organizations surveyed performed before school audiences of nearly 273,000 students. Several East Dallas schools were among the most frequent users of these free or low-cost artistic experiences.

Lipscomb Elementary was the City’s fifth-leading user of these cultural opportunities, with its students seeing an average of 3.25 performances in one year. Lipscomb was closely followed by Fannin Elementary’s 2,568 students, Lee Elementary’s 1,960, Mount Auburn Elementary’s 1,668, Lakewood Elementary’s 1,572, and Zaragoza Elementary’s 1,539. Woodrow Wilson High School also was a big user of these arts outreach efforts with its student audience of 1,455.

Most East Dallas schools, public and private, called upon Dallas’ arts community to expose students to cultural activities they might not otherwise experience.

I attended Dallas Opera presentations at Stonewall Jackson and Lipscomb elementary schools and was as delighted with the students’ response to opera as I was with the performances.

Although the young audience responded more enthusiastically to an operatic rendition of the theme to the “Addams Family” television show than to selections from “The Marriage of Figaro,” they enjoyed learning about art forms with which they were unfamiliar.

The 273,000 students who participated in these professional programs were a small portion of an audience estimated at 2.5 million Dallasites served by the two dozen largest arts groups surveyed. Of that total audience, one-third attended free events. Two-thirds of all cultural outreach, which is funded by the City, is seen by minority patrons.

Public debate is focused on the level of funding to ethnic-specific arts groups in the City. Less attention is paid to audiences served by Dallas’ arts community – both minority and non-minority cultural organizations.

More adequate funding of minority and other emerging arts groups must be provided if Dallas is to have a rich and diverse cultural life. However, we must not lose sight of the Coalition for the Arts report’s bottom line: Quality cultural experiences are not reserved for the elite.

Just ask your kids.

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