On my way to grab a cup of coffee Friday morning, I ran into some 1,100 fourth-graders outside the California Theater in downtown San Jose.
They were taking part in the ArtSPARK program, which brings a little culture to elementary school kids in Santa Clara County. More accurately, it brings the kids -- about 33,000 so far this year -- to the culture via a fleet of school buses.
Third-graders see a theater performance, fifth graders are exposed to dance. The fourth graders I saw were waiting for a special Symphony Silicon Valley performance, and then they would be escorted to the Center for the Performing Arts to see San Jose Taiko, our very famous Japanese-American drum troupe.
Symphony President Andrew Bales, who coordinates the program, said it exposes the kids to traditional performance arts like symphony and ballet as well as multicultural offerings like taiko and the Los Lupeños folklorico dance group. Not to mention introducing them to venues like the California Theater, the Mexican Heritage Plaza and the San Jose Rep.
Besides the symphony, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the city of San Jose and 1stACT Silicon Valley are the program's big backers, plus a legion of volunteers who help shepherd the kids where they need to be. Bales said the goal is to get every third- through sixth-grade student in the county to a performance. And that may "spark" the next generation of performers, arts educators and audiences.
REACHING GREAT "HEIGHTS": Thursday, I caught opening night of "In the Heights," the Tony Award-winning musical, which is being produced for the talented teens performing for Starting Arts, a nonprofit that uses working artists to bring arts education to Silicon Valley schools.
The show closes with 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. performances Saturday at Santa Clara High School, and Starting Arts has been very smart to borrow the title of one of its songs, "96,000," as the name of its fundraising campaign. In the show, it refers to a $96,000 lottery win, but Starting Arts Executive Director Ann Watts hopes the nonprofit can reach that goal through individual donations by June 30.
A big chunk may come at "Bright Lights, Big Dreams," a fundraising event at the Santa Clara Convention Center on Feb. 16. More info about the event and the campaign is available at www.startingarts.com.