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No luxury: Children’s festival in St. Paul highlights importance of the arts

In an age when children get most of their entertainment via a lighted screen, the upcoming Flint Hills International Children’s Festival is a chance to take a break from the Wii and the iPad and revisit the original source of creativity: the perform

In an age when children get most of their entertainment via a lighted screen, the upcoming Flint Hills International Children’s Festival is a chance to take a break from the Wii and the iPad and revisit the original source of creativity: the performing arts.

When Flint Hills Resources and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts created the festival 10 years ago, we wanted to provide an enriching community event for families. Performing arts festivals — especially ones geared toward children — were extremely rare at the time. Today this festival has reached nearly 350,000 people in its first decade and is one of the world’s best events of its kind.

This year’s 10th anniversary festival began on Tuesday and runs through Sunday, June 6, in downtown St. Paul. The School Days portion of the event (through Friday) involves more than 15,000 pre-K through grade 12 students from across Minnesota. They attend performances, participate in art projects and contests, and enjoy other interactive activities. Family Weekend is June 5-6, with performances and activities at the Ordway, Rice Park, Landmark Plaza, and Hamm Plaza. In the months leading up to the festival, more than 2,000 young people, their families, and teachers work on projects that immerse them in the art forms and cultures that the festival celebrates.

From puppetry to fire dancing
While arts education and participation are often viewed as luxuries, the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival highlights the infinite importance of the arts in our community. The festival is the only event in Minnesota where families can experience such a wide range of authentic performances by professional artists from North America and around the world. In our first decade alone, thousands of artists have come from 28 countries, representing nations as far away as Brazil, China, Kenya, and New Zealand. These international artists have performed puppetry, dance, music, drama, acrobatics, fire dancing, clowning, drumming, sidewalk painting, and nearly every other form of expression imaginable.

The Flint Hills International Children’s Festival exposes Minnesota children not only to the arts, but to diverse cultures and opportunities. It enriches children’s imaginations and contributes to the high quality of life we enjoy in Minnesota. Much more than a few days of fun, the festival provides months of hands-on, interactive art projects.

The success of the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival proves that Minnesotans value the arts, and that the arts — when made accessible — transcend economies and cultures. The arts unite us and make communities better.

Patricia A. Mitchell is president and chief executive officer for the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Scott Lindemann is vice president and manufacturing manager for the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery.