Give the Gift of the Arts for a Lasting Impression

Gift Of Art

Looking for a holiday gift that does more than help your child while away the hours between breakfast and bedtime? Consider a gift of the arts — supplies to get them started, tickets to a dazzling show or lessons in the craft itself — and put your child on the path to discovering an outlet for self-expression, cultural exploration and community engagement that will give back in countless ways. (Plus, you won’t trip over it in the hallway!)

Create the spark at home

As with so many activities and interests, sharing art with your child begins at home. Activities as simple as listening to music, singing and dancing to favorite songs, drawing, painting and making simple crafts can open the door to a world of enrichment.

Jennifer Shrewsbury of Durham recalls that a gift card to a local craft store provided her son, Jason, with many hours of fun and creative stimulation. “Over the course of the year we would go to the store and buy supplies or craft kits for teacher workdays or rainy days,” she says. “I thought it was one of the neatest gifts anyone could have given him.”

Even toddlers can explore the arts at home with child-friendly CDs, finger paints and newsprint, or games such as Cranium’s Hullabaloo that encourage creative movement. Older children might appreciate books showcasing art or architecture, supplies such as sketchpads and pencils, or classical music and Broadway soundtracks for their MP3 player.

The best part about exploring the arts at home? Determining which kinds of artistic activities your children enjoy most can help you gauge their readiness to engage in art in a more structured way.

Take in a show

Few things motivate a child’s interest in the arts like a live performance or well-designed exhibit. Many of the area’s premier arts organizations, such as the North Carolina Symphony, North Carolina Museum of Art, Carolina Ballet, North Carolina Theatre, American Dance Festival and a host of other community arts groups, offer family-friendly programs, abbreviated or daytime shows and participatory experiences to draw children into the arts.

Renee Wimberly of Garner, a professional actor who recently launched seedRaleigh Arts Community to provide opportunities for performing artists and their families to grow their crafts and relationships, praises the community’s efforts to make the arts more accessible to families with young children.

“My children have attended local performances at Raleigh Little Theatre, The Justice Theater Project, Garner Towne Players, Town of Cary, and local college and high school programs,” she says. “I don’t know if [area] families recognize just how much more is going on here artistically than in some other districts.”

Tickets to a show, a season pass to a pops series or a museum membership is a great way to provide your child with an exciting entry into the world of art. Performances by groups such as Paperhand Puppet Intervention that encourage audience members to join in the fun are ideal for toddlers and preschoolers. Older children may enjoy national touring shows brought to town by the Durham Performing Arts Center and Broadway Series South.

“For Christmas last year I bought my daughter, Caroline, tickets to see Wicked — just the two of us,” says Patty Fruehauf of Apex. “I loved watching her face throughout the musical. She was hooked!”

Learn from the pros

If your child shows an interest in taking art to the next level by creating it, consider giving him lessons this holiday season. Whether it’s a drop-in workshop at a local craft store, a weeklong camp through your municipality’s parks and recreation department, or an ongoing class at an art, dance or music school, the guidance of an experienced instructor can help your child explore his interests, hone his abilities and interact with the arts in a whole

new way.

Jennifer Hancock, director, owner and teacher at Triangle Music School in Durham, suggests that parents consider their child’s age and interest, the family’s budget, transportation and other logistics before they sign up for lessons.

It’s also important to find the right teacher. “While there are many different methods and approaches, it’s the person delivering that approach who really makes all the difference,” she says. “Observe a potential teacher working with a child similar in age to yours, or attend one of the teacher’s student recitals” to ensure you’ve found a good match. (For more tips on choosing arts classes of various types, see page 33.)

Local children’s theater groups provide another option for children interested in getting involved in the performing arts. Applause! Cary Youth Theatre, Durham’s Rags to Riches theater group, Walltown Children’s Theatre and Raleigh Little Theatre regularly offer children’s workshops that culminate in a public performance.

Make it a combo

The best gift is one you and your child can share. Sign yourself and your preschooler up for a “mommy (or daddy) and me” class, and you’ll both treasure that half-hour per week of one-on-one time. Give your grade-schooler drawing lessons and a big basket of supplies, then ask her to teach you what she has learned. Make your teen feel grown up with a night out at the theater, including dinner and discussion about what you’re going to see.

The North Carolina Museum of Art offers a fun spin on the “combo deal” with its Family Fun Saturday programs, which encourage families to view and talk about the museum’s art, then make a project together.

“It’s incredible to watch the dynamics of each family group as they try to imagine, problem-solve and create works that show how they see the world,” says Kristin Smith, coordinator of youth and family programs at the museum. “Whether they’re debating which color best represents the sea or figuring out which symbol represents what their family values most, they are having an incredibly meaningful experience together.”

Nancie Norwell, owner of The Painted Butterfly, a children’s art school and studio in Raleigh, also believes that the moments families share are about more than one sketch, song, performance or exhibit. “My grandfather taught me very early how to create and use my imagination,” she says. “He instilled the love of art in me that I still have today. In many ways, this studio exists because of him.”

It’s also about more than art. Donovan Zimmerman, co-founder of Saxapa-haw’s innovative performance troupe, Paperhand Puppet Intervention, reminds us that children’s participation in the arts extends beyond the studio or stage.

“I see it as crucial, really, because I think creativity and curiosity are at the heart of learning and imagination,” he says. “Being able to think creatively and imaginatively is a life skill. That doesn’t necessarily mean being an artist, but rather being able to engage in the things you’re doing on a deeper level and being an active participant in life rather than a spectator.”

And that’s way better than any pile of toys. 

Karen Lewis Taylor is an Apex-based writer and editor whose two school-aged daughters recently enjoyed Camp Clown’n Around at the Cary Arts Center.

Upcoming art events and performances

The following are just a few of the local kid-friendly arts festivals, performances and exhibits coming up in the next year. Mark your calendar, wrap up some tickets and share the gift of art with your child!

Also check the Carolina Parent calendar of family events for kid-friendly performances and arts activities.

Additional performing arts venues and organizations offer events and productions throughout the year. Check the websites for specific information.

For more performances

Several performing arts venues and organizations offer events and productions for families throughout the year. A few are listed below. Also check our calendar each month for family-friendly shows.