Expo at Knight Theater offers teachers, students ‘one-stop arts mart’

The Knight Theater in Charlotte held a touch of magic Saturday during the Arts & Science Council’s Cultural Education Expo.

Teachers, parents, students and others got to meet artists whom Mecklenburg County schools can bring to classrooms through the council’s school grants program.

Visitors shopped among the more than 60 vendors who plugged everything from bluegrass music and opera programs to educational theater and nature shows. They also took notes while watching live performances by such artists as Kali Ferguson, who did bilingual storytelling and poetry.

There were live ball pythons and Madagascar hissing cockroaches along with a professional clown and demonstrations of an aboriginal musical instrument called a didgeridoo.

“It’s like a marketplace,” said Barbara Ann Temple, the Arts & Science Council’s vice president for education. “When you go to a farmers market, you hand select the best organic veggies and fruits. We’re a cultural marketplace, where you shop for the best cultural experiences. We’re a one-stop arts mart.”

The nonprofit Arts & Science Council’s School Grants program provides up to $280,000 for Mecklenburg County public, charter, independent, parochial and private schools to support cultural programming that ties in with curricula.

Funding also can be used to supplement school-sponsored field trips. Each school within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is eligible for $1,500 to $2,000.

Teachers like Terry Potts took their time scoping out the programs.

A teacher at Croft Community School, she’d been at last year’s expo and connected with storytellers who later did programs at the school.

“We want our kids to learn, and not all kids can learn from books,” said Potts, a 20-year teaching veteran. “Art can be the vehicle for that light bulb to go off on their faces. It’s a connection they can take back to their regular class”

Among the expo vendors was professional storyteller Donna Washington of Durham. The award-winning author of children’s books such as “The Story of Kwanzaa” and “A Pride of African Tales,” she’d done programs at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools before but had never been to the cultural expo.

Washington looked forward to doing more school programs and seeing the emotions she evoked on stage “reflected back in the faces of the children.”

Tom Pierce of Bethlehem, Ga., talked to visitors about his program, “Dr. Tom’s Semi-Silent Theater.” A mime and professional clown, he’s traveled the world with his act.

“I’m still having a ball,” said Pierce, 67, who studied mime, acting and children’s theater at Florida State University.

He especially enjoys performing in schools because kids “are seeing an art form you don’t see anymore,” Pierce said. “They get talked to all day. So when I go on stage, I do one-half to two-thirds of the show without talking. The kids are riveted. They understand everything when I didn’t say a word.”

At the Didgeridoo Down Under booth, Darren Liebman explained how his Australia-themed program provides music, education, entertainment, motivation and character building. He also demonstrated how to play a didgeridoo, a musical instrument made from a hollowed tree trunk or branch.

Blowing in one end produced a long, strange droning.

“It’s otherworldly,” said Liebman, 42, of Tampa, Fla.

The South Africa native often visited relatives in Australia and began playing a didgeridoo in 2000. Three years later, he started an educational/entertainment program he sees as helping develop better global citizens.

Liebman called the expo “fantastic.” In a time when school budgets are being cut, especially in the area of cultural arts, “somehow, here, they’ve found a way to partner with organizations and raise necessary funds so talented, motivated people can be paid and share their passion and knowledge.”

The rest of the country “should take a hard look at the success they’ve had here for raising funds,” he said.