Across The Area, Arts Programs Take A Bow At The White House The Projects Cited Offer Culture And Creativity To ``at-risk'' Youths.

Posted: April 26, 1996

This June, 20 teenagers, most from the depressed neighborhoods of Chester, will graduate from high school with six years of theater experience.

They have been participating in a program called the New Voices Ensemble, one of several outreach projects of the People's Light and Theatre Company, in Malvern.

The teenagers - three white and 17 black - have been learning how to memorize lines, how to act, how to improvise. They've been involved in such plays as A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Peter Pan and Grimm Tales, as well as a number of plays they have written themselves or have had written for them by playwrighting students at Swarthmore College.

Most of all, they learn commitment.

``They learn how to work together with people from different backgrounds,'' said project director Abigail Adams, ``how to show up on time every day and work when you don't feel like it - something they can use whatever they do in life.''

The People's Light project is one of nine Philadelphia-area arts and humanities programs cited in a report, by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, that Hillary Rodham Clinton will present this afternoon at the White House.

The nine are among 218 programs around the nation that the 46-member committee has singled out for achievements in helping ``to transform the lives of at-risk children and youth.''

Hillary Clinton is honorary chairwoman of the committee, which her husband appointed in September 1994 to make the arts and humanities more available to children, especially to the almost 14 million - one out of five - who live in poor families.

Of those 14 million, almost four million are growing up in severely distressed neighborhoods, with high levels of poverty, unemployment, high school dropouts, single-parent families and welfare, according to the report, Coming Up Taller: Arts and Humanities Programs for Children and Youth At-Risk.

``We see too clearly how an erosion and a breakdown of our most cherished institutions have resulted in a fraying of the whole social fabric,'' Hillary Clinton says in the introduction to the report. ``We know that the arts have the potential for obliterating the limits that are too often imposed on our lives.''

The President's Committee hopes that Coming Up Taller will spur national, state and local leaders, in the public and private sectors, to come up more generously with support for arts and humanities programs for at-risk young people.

Most arts and humanities funding comes from private sources - foundations, corporations and individuals. But, as the report notes, the largest donor to the arts since 1976 has been the National Endowment for the Arts. The report does not note that federal support for the NEA has been steadily - now, drastically - slashed in the last four years, from $175 million in 1992 to $99.5 million now.

In addition to the People's Light Project, the Philadelphia-area programs cited are:

* The Settlement Music School's Preschool Arts Enrichment Program, in which, for the last six years, professional artists have been teaching low-income children music, dance and the visual arts.

* Taller Puertorriqueno's Cultural Awareness Program, which offers children in the mainly Latino neighborhood in North Philadelphia classes in literature, theater, visual arts and dance.

* The youth programs at the 10-year-old Village of Arts and Humanities, which transform empty lots into art parks; restore decrepit buildings; offer a wide range of after-school and summer classes in art, dance, theater, African American history and world culture; train teenagers and adults to produce contemporary urban folk art; and stage community festivals.

* Brandywine Workshop's Philly Panache program, which matches a professional artist with a small group of high school students for six weeks during the summer, teaching them such skills as painting, design and computer graphics.

* Venture Theater's Reality Crew, a program that brings at-risk teenagers from around the city to the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies eight hours a week. There, theater professionals teach them playwriting, acting, voice and speech, movement, directing, stage management, costume design and skills in sound and lighting.

* The Youth Workshop of Asian Americans United, in which teenagers work with Asian American artists on projects ranging from public murals and an in-house literary magazine to dance performances and a video project.

* The Latin Music School of the Asociacion de Musicos Latino Americanos in North Philadelphia, where young people ages 5 to 21 are given instructions in guitar, classical and Afro-Cuban piano, voice, percussion, wind and brass instruments, music theory and salsa dance.

* The Pennsylvania Prison Society's Arts and Humanities Program, in which young people on probation engage in such projects as writing and illustrating comic books and creating rap music tapes and anthologies of stories.

Among others scheduled to take part in today's ceremonies are actors Richard Dreyfuss and Rita Moreno; the heads of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, Jane Alexander and Sheldon Hackney; and John Brademas, a former Indiana congressman and president emeritus of New York University, who served as chairman of the President's Committee.

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