Kaunas is taking up a unique innovation – to establish the first school of performing arts in the country for children and youth

Rich extracurricular activities with complete freedom to choose from music, dance and theatre synthesis to stage technologies. Such an ambition was raised by Kaunas Municipality, which planned to establish a School of Performing Arts, which has no analogues in Lithuania so far. In addition to a critical and cautious approach, strong support for this aspiration of the city has been expressed by recognized cultural authorities in favour of systematic and comprehensive development of children’s artistic abilities by strengthening interdisciplinary programs in non-formal education.


Experiences are part of the child’s development

Non-formal education school leaders and community members, academics educating professionals, highly experienced cultural figures and future potential employers shared their views in a recent remote discussion entitled “The School of Performing Arts – Mission, Goals and Expectations”. Its aim is to hear out the insights of famous cultural figures about the idea of ​​creating a school of performing arts based on interdisciplinarity and integrated between themselves programs, its significance for the child’s development and the general quality of after-school education. Finally, the question of the competencies of the growing younger generation and their connection with the choice of future profession was approached. “Regardless of the age group, whether it is a 4-year-old child or a 24-year-old youngster, s/he must be able to grow and learn about a very wide range of cultural diversity in order to become a creative and free personality. We can achieve this by strengthening all the possible qualities needed in the 21st century – creativity, integrity, emotional intelligence and critical thinking. The more and more extensively all this will happen, the more our children will take it all,” the educator and vice-dean of the Music Academy of Vytautas Magnus University, Associate Professor, Dr. Daiva Bukantaitė shared her insights. According to her, a “belt culture” is still very deeply rooted in Lithuania and in some European Union countries, which is focused on strong profiling and the development of “correct competencies”. This is especially felt in the culture of traditional music and dance education, where there is a belief that the most important capabilities are those that will be used for “breadwinning”. Meanwhile, the field of free education focuses on a variety of experiences, as they are the source of learning for every child. Integral and cross-competence education is essential for the promotion of children’s creativity and self-expression, and collaboration with different disciplines improves social, communication and artistic skills. The Dean of Music Academy of VMU, Associate Professor, Dr. Saulius Gerulis welcomed the presented idea of ​​the school of performing arts: “The conception through the free choice of children and parents is really tempting. It is not narrow – the content covers many areas. I see no danger here. The most important thing is to take care of human factors.” Integrated performing arts schools Integrated performing arts schools have been operating in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom for some time, with the aim of increasing the attractiveness of accredited programs, systematically and consistently developing children’s natural artistic abilities and understanding of the interrelationships between different arts.Foreign practice shows that the curricula of such schools are based on the principle of dualism: children learn compulsory subjects and choose from a wide range of related activities. The aim is to create namely such an institution in Kaunas on the existing and successfully operating foundations by connecting Kaunas Children and School Leisure Palace and Kaunas Choreography School to Kaunas Mikas Petrauskas Music School. The educators working here have many years of experience in the field of education of children and youth, therefore they would be entrusted with the development of new interdisciplinary activities. In addition to the basic, interconnected subjects of dance, theatre and music, the students could try themselves in other fields as well – learn the subtleties of make-up, design sound and lights, improve the plasticity of movement and stage expression. “Hearing each other is the most important step towards this complex operation. We need to realize that we are raising a child first, and only then a professional. As leaders, we create programs, structures, and we must responsibly anticipate the benefits we will bring to the child, how we will collaborate with the Musical Theatre, the Philharmonic, Aura, Girstutis, and other institutions. We have to put our shoulder to shoulder, listen to children and the community, discuss how the programs will need to be arranged, what the suggestions for professional and non-formal education might be,” said Lina Kaubrienė-Stunžėnienė, Director of Kaunas Children and Pupils’ Leisure Chamber. An incentive to stay in the arts
The planned M. Petrauskas School of Performing Arts would continue to pursue differentiated programs in the fields of music, dance and theatre, therefore the children now studying would continue their studies without additional inconveniences. It would also make it possible to supplement existing programs with optional subjects that meet their individual needs and satisfy curiosity. “I have to deal with students majoring in music production or sound directing – many of them have graduated from music schools or conservatories, but only very few of them have experience in technology. It is these children who are more motivated and stubborn to successfully complete their studies and achieve their goals. We as educators must go hand in hand with technologies and integrate them into all science. There is more than one example of a school of performing arts in the world, but such a medium would be the first in Lithuania. If it did, it would really enrich every child – s/he would be more involved in the processes, would discover himself/herself and maybe raise the technological-artistic level in the future. Now we especially lack lighting and audiovisual technology specialists, therefore, as the possibilities expand, these specialties could become popular as well,” said Vytautas Kederys, head of the music technology study program at KTU, about the benefits of integral programs. The establishment of a new concept school would potentially reduce the current student turnover – about 20% of children abandon extracurricular activities or wander between several different activities. In addition, testing a wider range of disciplines at an early age and choosing one of the desired ones would increase the likelihood that children will continue to develop and improve talent in the extended program after completing the 8-year core program. This is necessary to support the acquired professional skills when planning a career in the arts. “I think the first thing to do is to distinguish between extracurricular activities and professionalism. One thing is to catch interest, the other is to prepare purposefully, with the possibility, desire and planning that those children will continue to go to one school or another. In this case, the School of Performing Arts talks more about the wide acquaintance of children with different forms of performing arts, the possibility to change modules by moving from one to another,” said Gintarė Masteikaitė, Head of the Association of Non-Governmental Performing Arts Organizations, noting the possible risks that in Kaunas there is the only School of Choreography preparing contemporary dance and ballet professionals. To study and work in Kaunas “We all gathered to talk about the children and their extracurricular activities, what interests them: lights, visualization, sound, staging, playing with adults, teachers, or creating a joint orchestra that could accompany soloists, string players, and others. Maybe not all children will become professionals, but they will understand what dance, music, singing is, and eventually they will wake up in an artistic environment,” said Benjaminas Želvys, the Head of Kaunas State Musical Theatre. The interlocutor hinted at the lack of artists, as many of them on the Musical Theatre stage came from abroad. This is a sign that more work is needed already in the initial stage of development, when the aim is not to be professional, but simply to interest children, to give them the opportunity to touch different branches of art. They may further take opportunities at J. Gruodis Conservatory and J. Naujalis Gymnasium in Kaunas, as well as the university art programs at Vytautas Magnus University and KTU. “When a person is formed while still a pupil and after the twelfth grade is able to speak, discuss on music, dance and art, I think such a young person has great prospects in this 21st century. The whole world, even in business, is looking for someone who will attract the most creative manager possible. This is a very good idea here, and all the more so if technologies also emergence at this school. However, there is also the biggest concern about how not to make mistakes and maintain that bar high, so that we get professionals as a result – in both, ballet, dance and musicianship, because we have a whole further pyramid in Kaunas,” said Justinas Krėpšta, the long-term Head of Kaunas State Philharmonic. According to the participants of the discussion, the young generation has all the conditions to establish itself in the labour market – to choose Kaunas Symphony Orchestra or State Choir, Chamber or Drama Theatres. Over 80 young people who have graduated in art have come to the Musical Theatre alone in the last decade. That’s almost half of all the creators of this theatre. “We have heard many and different opinions, but the aspirations of all of us coincide – we want to create quality occupation for Kaunas children, offer them more disciplines and help them discover talent or “zinc” in a specific field. The more children come to us, the more gold nuggets we will find and be able to accompany them towards a professional career. Now we need to start the process and look for answers together – how to turn the existing vision into reality. Children and the people who work with them will be the cornerstone of this process,” Deputy Mayor Andrius Palionis was pleased with the productive discussion. In addition to organisational work, the city is determined to open up the existing infrastructure for children’s extracurricular activities. They will be able to try out the renewed stages of the legendary Romuva Cinema, Girstutis and Kaunas Culture Centre, as well as use the Kaunas Sports Hall, which is being reconstructed. The latter will be precisely adapted for non-formal education with multifunctional spaces of various sizes. Public Relations Information