Lexington is a great place for artsy kids

Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell conducts a combined rehearsal of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra symphony orchestra and the Philharmonic Oct. 19. CKYO director Kayoko Dan stands at the back of the orchestra, in a black blouse. Photos by Matt Goins.

Lexington Philharmonic music director Scott Terrell conducts a combined rehearsal of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras' symphony orchestra and the Philharmonic Oct. 19. CKYO director Kayoko Dan stands at the back of the orchestra, in a black blouse. Photos by Matt Goins.

When I moved to Lexington in 1998, one thing that immediately struck me about the ­local arts scene was the prominence of children and organizations geared toward children.

The Lexington Children’s Theatre’s shows rated the same sort of attention as productions at Actors Guild of Lexington and other area stages.

The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras’ events and personnel moves were prominent news. There were two institutions – the Explorium (then, the Lexington Children’s Museum) and the Living Arts and Science Center – geared toward children’s arts, particularly visual arts.

The School for Creative and Performing Arts had a prominent place in town, but there were stage, art and music programs at other schools also producing talented graduates who went on to arts careers.

Children’s Health magazine recently ranked Lexington No. 6 on its list of the 100 best places to raise a family. The criteria included crime and safety, education, economics, housing, cultural attractions and health.

I’d be willing to bet that if someone wanted to rank best places to be an artsy kid, Lexington would rate high on that list, too. By virtue of what is offered, we tell our children that the arts are something to do and be respected for doing.

Dancers from the School of the Lexington Ballet prepare for Sunday's Youth Arts Day performance.

Students Madelyn Nelson, left, Sara Arthur-Paratley, and Mary Rollins-Mathews rehearsed with the Lexington Ballet on Monday in preparation for Youth Arts Day.

The Lexington Philharmonic, the Horse Capitol of the World’s flagship arts organization, will celebrate young artists with its Youth Arts Day family concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts. It will include young singers from SCAPA, Fayette County Public Schools and the School of the Lexington Ballet.

The prominence of youth-oriented groups here is quite a bit more than other communities that I have lived in or observed. Over the nearly 12 years since I arrived, it has become clear that a big reason for that is quality.

Take the Children’s Theatre: In a town that has struggled with the concept of professional theater for adults, the Lexington Children’s Theatre has established itself with its own building on Short Street and a professional staff, including actors. What’s more, Larry and Vivian Snipes have developed a national reputation for the theater by being a venue that presents and creates new work. And the primary beneficiaries are kids.

And it really wasn’t terribly surprising that when the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras went looking for a new music director at the same time that the Lexington Philharmonic was trying to fill a similar job, it ended up attracting and hiring Kayoko Dan, also a candidate for the Philharmonic post.

CKYO has graduated numerous professional musicians, including Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Nathan Cole and hard-to-categorize cello soloist Ben Sollee.

Outside of groups directly geared toward kids, Lexington arts groups have been generous to kids.
Look at Paragon Music Theatre, which routinely loads the stage with kids, including Hello Dolly! this weekend, and even makes a place for them in its cabaret shows.

During years without a professional company, the Lexington Ballet featured its students in productions, and it and Kentucky Ballet Theatre, which has always had a pro troupe, always find ways to present students. Former Ballet Theatre dancer Adalhi Aranda Corn saw such value in Central Kentucky’s young artists she left and formed Bluegrass Youth Ballet and eventually built CulturArte, an arts facility that acommodates a variety of disciplines.

Possibly one of the biggest statements about valuing student artists was when the Lexington Singers’ ­Children’s Chorus was invited to perform in the Our Lincoln performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington in February.

And now LexArts has formed a Youth Arts Council to help focus young artists in the area.

A CKYO and Lexington Philharmonic clarinetist rehearse side by side.

Clarinetists Andrew Burton, 14, left, of the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras and Mike Acord of the Philharmonic rehearsed together Monday.

Full disclosure: My children have participated in some of these groups, and one is in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, although not the ensemble performing Sunday with the Lexington Philharmonic.

In addition, I’ve gotten to know many other kids who participate in groups. Maybe the most important thing these groups engender is enthusiasm for the arts they are participating in. I hear spirited discussions about play rehearsal and genuine interest in Bach sonatas.

Like anything, Lexington’s youth arts scene isn’t perfect. I remain baffled, for instance, why SCAPA does not have a theater of its own. Then again, SCAPA regularly solves that problem by putting its kids on stages usually graced by adults and pros.

It occurred to me as I left a CKYO rehearsal last week with my daughter that by virtue of her participation in the orchestra, she’s on the University of Kentucky campus every week. Most of us didn’t get used to being on a college campus until we had enrolled.

That’s just one of many ways that through our youth arts, regardless of whether the students pursue arts careers, by supporting such substantial programs, we’re preparing our kids for the rest of their lives.

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