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Connect kids to culture and see creativity, smarts blossom

City teems with music, theater, dance and craft groups
by: ©2008 ChristIAn Johnson, While the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre (left) often sends dancers on to professional companies, there are plenty of dance and other arts opportunities around town for kids who just want to try something for fun.

After more than 25 years working with children, Oregon Children's Theatre Artistic Director Stan Foote knows what art can do for kids.

'There's a definite interaction when you see something live,' says Foote, whose company will open its production of 'The Ghosts of Treasure Island' on Sunday. 'You're a part of it.'

'It opens up the imagination to different worlds, different ways of thinking about stuff. I think that creates intelligent human beings.'

Happily, Portland provides all kinds of opportunities to get smart. Acknowledged as a vibrant arts city, its commitment to exposing kids to art starts at the top.

It is home to the Portland Youth Philharmonic, the oldest symphony of its kind in the United States. At the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre, the affiliate of Christopher Stowell's fast-rising professional company, enrollment is soaring. And Portland's theater community is well invested in outreach and education programs for youths.

Here's a list of local arts organizations whose work your kids might enjoy, as well as some summer camp options.

- Eric Bartels

MUSIC

Oregon Symphony Orchestra

The opportunity to introduce your kids to classical music in thrilling fashion doesn't end with the cannon blasts at the climax of the '1812 Overture,' the highlight of the symphony's free concert at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park each August.

The symphony (503-228-1353, www.orsymphony.org) makes visits to neighborhoods, sends individual musicians to educational events for children and offers a Kids Concerts series each season. - although those are over until the fall.

If you think seeing young musicians in action might be inspirational for your children, you could catch the Portland Youth Philharmonic (503-223-5939, www.portlandyouthphil.org), which offers a concert of chamber music this weekend (2 p.m. Sunday, April 20, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 S.W. Park Ave., $10-$12). Its spring concert follows close behind May 3.

Also keep an eye out for the Metropolitan Youth Symphony (503-239-4566, www.metroyouthsymphony.org), a collection of more than 500 area musicians in 12 performing ensembles. The youth symphony offers skill development to young artists at virtually all skill levels; it also plays its season-ending concert in Newberg on May 18.

There are some less conventional opportunities out there, as well.

The seven-year-old Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls (503-445-4991, www.girlsrockcamp.org) has become a virtual Portland institution, enrolling upward of 250 girls at its several weeklong camps each summer.

The Old Library Studio, (503-528-2828, www.oldlibrarystudio.org) a Hollywood nonprofit, has become an important, low-pressure laboratory for the making and recording of music by young people. Its programs run through the summer.

And Southeast Portland learning center Cadenza Academy (2727 S.E. 21st Ave., 503-963-9600, www.cadenzaacademy.net) offers classes to both kids and adults.

THEATER

Portland Center Stage (503-796-6514, www.pcs.org), the biggest player in Portland theater, makes discounted tickets available to kids at Thursday matinees. Its Stage Door program offers pre-performance workshops in which youngsters 12 and up get deeper background on what they'll see on stage.

Most cities would be proud to be home to one high-quality children's theater organization. Portland has two, Northwest Children's Theater and School (1819 N.W. Everett St., 503-222-2190, www.nwcts.org) and Oregon Children's Theatre (503-228-9571, www.octc.org). Both provide training and performance opportunities for young artists nearly year-round. OCT's Acting Academy begins June 23.

There are a number of very fine actors in Portland who honed their skills at the Portland Actors Conservatory (503-274-1717, www.actorsconservatory.com). The school's Summer on Stage program promises some of the same in-depth training in two sessions, July 9 through July 25 and July 30 through Aug. 15, with a staged showcase at the end.

A North Portland arts hub, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (503-823-4322, www.ifccarts.org) specializes in cultural cross-pollination. Watch for its Portland Theatre Brigade (www.theatrebrigade.org, 503-358-9938), a troupe of actors as young as 7 that performs frequently.

The Latino-oriented Miracle Theatre Group (525 S.E. Stark St., 503-236-7253, www.milagro.org) includes Pluma Nueva, a program for bilingual teens that involves an intensive, 12-week writing and performance workshop. Many of Milagro's productions are suited to younger audiences as well.

DANCE

Director Damara Bennett of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre (503-227-6890, www.obt.org/school) says enrollment has increased by more than 50 percent in her five years at the OBT feeder school. That's 200 ballet students and climbing. The high-performing school isn't for dabblers, but other local companies offer less commitment-heavy opportunities.

If the humor and irreverence that guides acclaimed contemporary company BodyVox is any indication, its BodyVox Kids DanceCamp (503-229-0627, www.bodyvox.com) for the young and performance-inclined will be a bargain at any price. Take your kids to see a BodyVox performance if you don't believe it. Camps begin June 16.

The magical movement troupe Do Jump! (503-231-1232, www.dojump.org) offers four matinee performances beginning May 16. If you like what you see, the company's Physical Theatre School, for kids as young as 3 1/2, begins June 16 and culminates with a family camp workshop July 12.

Every performance by Suzanne Kenney's acrobatic Pendulum Aerial Dance Theatre (503-319-5486, www.pendulumdancetheatre.org) and its youth corps, the Pendulum Flyers, is an invitation to let the imagination soar, even if it brings the possibility that your kid will want to become a circus performer.

Catch them in their new show, 'Dawn.' (7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and May 4, French American International School, 8500 N.W. Johnson St., $15-$25)

ARTS AND CRAFTS

Drummer Obo Addy, a Ghanaian import, is the force behind the four weeklong camps that make up the African Arts Summer Camps (503-288-3025, www.homowo.org). Kids learn about African music, dance, art and culture in locations around the metro area, beginning June 23.

The Contemporary Craft Museum (724 N.W. Davis St., 503-223-2654, www.museumofcontemporarycraft.org) offers Family Discovery Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. the last Sunday of every month, while the Oregon College of Art and Craft (8245 S.W. Barnes Road, 503-297-5544, www.ocac.edu) has weekend classes and family workshops as well as day camps during the summer.

The Portland Children's Museum (503-471-9911, www.portlandcm.org) offers its Summer Day Camp June 30 through July 25 and June 30 through Aug. 8; MetroArts (503-245-4885, www.metroartsinc.org) has two weeklong kids camps July 14 through July 18 and July 21 through July 25.

There are well-run summer programs around the city. Northeast Portland parents rave about the annual Grace Art Camp (503-331-8155, www.grace-institute.org) an arts-heavy set of seven one-week sessions that begin July 7.

Pacific Northwest College of Art (503-821-8967, www.pnca.edu) offers classes for kids ages 4 to 18 during the spring and fall as well as weeklong workshops in the summer.