ASU Gammage is offering virtual field trips to K-12 students around Arizona on April 22 and 30 so they can experience the arts while learning remotely thanks to the The Molly Blank Fund Performances for Students.
The performances will increase access to arts education for as many students as possible. A variety of groups like the TAIKOPROJECT, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Pacifico Dance Company, will be part of the events and were chosen in order to ensure students saw themselves represented on stage, said Desiree Ong, educational enrichment program manager at ASU Gammage.
Normally, Gammage can accommodate 1,800 students, but making performances virtual has allowed more students to register, Ong said. Gammage intentionally offers these series with a wide variety of cultures and art forms. Ong provides teachers with supplemental curriculum for the performances so students can learn about the performers they are watching.
The TAIKOPROJECT is a group of performers who play taiko drums, Japanese percussion instruments. On March 29, they performed live on the ASU Gammage stage while the show was broadcast to about 3,000 students. They were all tested for COVID-19 in California before coming to ASU to perform, Ong said.
"This was the first time since March (2020) Gammage has had a large ensemble group perform with an in-person audience," Ong said. "The audience consisted of donors for this series of performances."
The Dance Theatre of Harlem is a multicultural ballet company that specializes in classic, neoclassic and innovative contemporary works. Its main goal is to spread empowerment through the arts, according to the website. They will be performing on their own stage and livestreaming the performance on April 22.
The Pacifico Dance Company from Los Angeles will follow the same procedure as the TAIKOPROJECT, performing live at Gammage with a livestream on April 30. The Pacifico Dance Company is "dedicated to the performance and preservation of traditional Mexican dance," according to its website.
COVID-19 has impacted ASU Gammage's ability to hold in person performances and events. They had to cut down on staff at the beginning of the pandemic which has made it difficult to organize big events.
"In the past, our donors have supported things like bus reimbursement for schools that are far away or that don't have the funds to travel. But this year due to COVID-19 our needs have changed and streaming equipment was something we would benefit from during the pandemic," said Julianne Mate, development officer at ASU Gammage.
Since ASU Gammage has never livestreamed events of this size, it lacked the infrastructure to successfully air anything online. Without the help of donors, it would have been extremely difficult to bring performances to students virtually, said Shaun Schultz, ASU Gammage's production manager.
"It was a challenge to figure out how to make our interactive programs into the virtual world. None of us really knew anything about livestreaming and we had to develop the skillset quickly," Schultz said. "Luckily, with the help of our donors, we were able to purchase the equipment we needed and do some training with the local vendors we purchased from and watched many YouTube videos."
According to the Arizona Department of Education over 130,000 students do not have sufficient access to arts education. Gammage had many students return this year, but found an influx of new schools and students that wanted to participate in events.
"We've been able to reach a lot of new schools this year. We made an effort to advertise to rural schools. I reached out to the Bureau of Indian Education, and I sent them information which they put in their monthly newsletter that goes out to the schools. We're always trying to build strong relationships with their community because ASU is committed to Native American education," Ong said.
"We had schools sign up from Tucson, Casa Grande, Young and more," she said. "We are so pleased to be able to bring the arts to these students even during a pandemic."
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Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times.