Madison Opera After-School at Overture

Madison Opera’s teaching artist Saira Frank with after-school vocal students at the Overture Center as part of the Arts Education Initiative.

Last week, Madison Opera proudly participated in the culminating event of the Overture Center Arts Education Initiative, a project that has been two years in the making. A cooperative effort between the Overture Center, five of its resident companies, and the Madison Metropolitan School District, the Arts Education Initiative places teaching artists in local schools for residencies and provides access to resident company performances at Overture; in addition, the Initiative engages interested students in a ten-week after-school program in the arts. Not to mention, prior to this first season of executing the program, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, school teachers, resident company teaching artists, and resident company administrators participated in multiple professional development seminars in arts and creativity education. In short, the Arts Education Initiative makes the Overture Center and performances by resident companies like Madison Opera more accessible to students and teachers in the community, while also bringing art and art education to the classroom – and not just to elective arts classrooms, but to math, social studies, humanities and science classrooms, ensuring creativity has no bounds.

Here’s how the Initiative worked for Madison Opera: after a year of planning and training, our teaching artist Saira Frank worked with 6th grade classes at Cherokee Middle School, introducing them to opera and in particular to Verdi’s La Traviata. After participating in a variety of activities based on the aesthetic education model centered on La Traviata, the students saw the piece performed live in Overture Hall at Madison Opera’s recent Student Matinee. Not only did the classes Saira worked with attend, but the entire 6th grade of Cherokee Middle School was there!

Following the in-school residency and performance components of the Initiative came the after-school program. At the after-school program, students from Sherman and Cherokee Middle Schools broke into different specialties to create their own artistic works inspired by the Shinique Smith exhibit at MMoCA.Over ten sessions, the vocal students worked with Saira to filter their ideas and feelings about Shinique Smith’s artwork into songs, or “arias,” that they then performed last Thursday. Working in pairs, the students wrote their own lyrics and set them to existing arias that fit the mood and atmosphere of the Shinique Smith work they were inspired by. The results were pretty incredible, and we are beyond thrilled that the Overture Center for the Arts has already received a new $37,000 grant from the NEA to continue the Arts Education Initiative next year.

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