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THE MAIN EVENT
ARTSY 'CURTAIN UP JUNIOR' TAKES OVER THEATER DISTRICT

On its way into your mind, knowledge can take many paths. For most it comes through books, blackboards and time-tested lesson plans.

But for Craig Gordon's students at the Bennett Park Montessori Center, it comes in the form of music, through old PVC pipes and hollowed-out concrete containers stretched with old canvas.

For other schools around Western New York, it comes through theater and tap dancing, poetry and photography -- from places you might not expect to find it.

And on Friday, it will come from 20 organizations that have joined to demonstrate just what Buffalo's arts-in-education community is capable of. ArtsWorks for Kids, a free, interactive festival in Buffalo's Theater District for students in kindergarten through high school, will highlight the collaborative efforts of groups that have long worked under the radar. The festival is timed to coincide with this weekend's Common Ground arts education conference in downtown Buffalo.

"We've come together to make others aware that arts really works for kids," said Lucinda Ingalls, executive director of Musicians United for Superior Education (MUSE) and an event organizer. She drew an important distinction between simply teaching children the artistic process and using that process to teach students about broader life experiences.

"What we're doing is critical as opposed to icing on the cake," Ingalls said. "It has an enormous impact on kids."

The event will occupy several venues in the theater district, including the Alleyway Theatre and the entire CEPA Gallery as well as sidewalk space between. It's presented by two umbrella organizations, the Coalition of Arts Providers for Children and the Western New York Regional Leadership Network, which together represent the bulk of Buffalo's arts-in-education programs.

MUSE, whose artists work in schools to teach children about traditional disciplines through art and music, will showcase its program "Pieces to Piece" at the festival. Children at the Bennett Park school have created instruments and costumes that embody their vision of what the future might look like. What they came up with, with the help of artists like Craig Gordon, is a performance that features kids in amoeba-like body socks dancing to a homemade orchestraof cigar box pianos and old construction materials.

"They take a pair of rubber flip flops or mouse pads and slap the end of the pipes," an enthusiastic Gordon said about the makeshift pipe organ the class constructed. "They sound amazing and they're very loud."

The idea, Ingalls and Gordon point out, is not simply to provide a fun activity for students, but to use that activity to teach them about traditional disciplines like math, music theory and practical skills for life. The same goes for dozens of other exhibitions and activities at the festival, which range from sessions on video editing by students from Buffalo's Harvey Austin School (P.S. 97) to a CEPA project where kids can take pictures with a pinhole camera and develop them.

Last week, in the dank basement of the CEPA Gallery, Education Director Lauren Tent held up a metal paint canister. With it, she said, kids at the festival will insert a piece of photo paper in the darkroom, hold one finger over a hole in the top and go outside to take a picture. Then they'll come back to the darkroom to develop their work, discuss it and take it home.

"Photography can be used in so many ways," Tent said. "There's science in it. It really enhances education."

The current exhibits in CEPA's gallery spaces will be removed to accommodate photography and art exhibits from schools as far away as Rochester, including a full-fledged videography workshop from Jamestown High School. In a program called Video Works, Jamestown students will be shooting a video of the entire event and demonstrating the editing process involved in making the final product.

In a less flashy but perhaps more interactive workshop, poet and teaching artist Karen Lewis, who works with Just Buffalo Literary Center, will showcase work from students at the Native American Magnet school.

"They have such strong voices," Lewis said of her students. "Poetry really allows the writer's voice to come through."

In her class, and in the workshop, Lewis plays music andpresents students with works of art from the likes of Monet and VanGogh. The students then write a poem based on the work of art, free from the constraints of more traditional forms of writing.

"Normally, their writing gets cramped because they're worried that they're going to spell something wrong. Poetry just frees them from that," Lewis said. "They can craft something that's completely from their heart and from their head."

Getting at students' hearts is something that traditional education doesn't often concern itself with, which is exactly why Buffalo's arts-in-education community is working more fervently than ever to preserve its place in the schools. This festival is just one part of that.

"We really believe that arts services for kids are just as crucial as school nurses," said Cass Clarke, education director of Just BuffaloLiterary Center. In the face of deep cuts as a result of the county budget fiasco, Clarke and others worry that their programs could lose ground. "Oftentimes, it's the first thing that gets cut," Clarke added.

Recognition and awareness -- and therefore the ArtsWorks for Kids Festival -- Ingalls said, is extremely important.

"We've been doing probably the highest quality work in the state and this is an opportunity to show it off," Ingalls said. "We can show people that we know what we're doing here in Buffalo.

The festival takes place from 3:30 to 7 p.m. A schedule will be available at the information booth on Main Street in the Theatre District.

FESTIVAL PLAY-BY-PLAY:

Creating Character through Imaginative Play (Aesthetic Education Institute of Rochester with Autumn Lane Elementary): Young people will explore and exaggerate personal traits leading to improvisation.

Rhythm Tap (Arts in Education Institute of WNY with Kalfas Magnet Elementary from Niagara Falls): Students learn basics of tap dance.

A Community Poem (Albright-Knox Art Gallery with Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts): What is a fabric poem? Young people will find out and build one.

Writing on the Wall (Castellani Art Museum with Lewiston-Porter High School). Students will participate in s workshop exploring the themes of power and abuse of power in an interdisciplinary project.

Art to Art (Project U.N.I.Q.U.E.). Young people get hands-on time with musical instruments while responding to photographic art.

Art of Zoetrope (Squeaky Wheel). Children can build and view zoetrope animation.

Community Walls (UB's Anderson Gallery). Students will create fabric bricks to build a Buffalo wall.

Dance*Drama*Discover (Young Audiences of Rochester with Penfield Central Schools). Kids can take a workshop in theater and dance.

Quilt Project (Young Audiences of WNY with Waterfront School). Students explore the history of quilt-making while making a quilt.

"Restricted" (Albright-Knox Art Gallery with Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts). Ninth graders will perform original play, "Restricted," based on an exhibit at the gallery.

Exhibits include:

"Images of Me, Reflections of You" student photography from El Museo Francisco Oller y DiegoRivera.

Student artwork from Locust Street Neighborhood Art Classes.