Cultural Arts in the Corona Era, Part 1: Live vs. Online Assemblies

If you’re reading this, I’d like to start with a few assumptions:

  1. You believe, as I do, that the Arts are an important part of a child’s well-rounded education;
  2. You’re aware that assembly programs if they’re well-written and engaging, are powerful tools for entertaining, empowering and educating children; and
  3. You’re curious as to whether online programs are worth the time and money while social distancing and staggered attendance are the norms.

Please note, it’s sad but many school districts cannot have online education due to the “digital divide”, a topic I hope to address in a future post. This article, then, is primarily for those who are able to but still questioning online programs.

The Intersection

Now, let’s do something a lot of your kids do – create a Venn Diagram to illustrate the intersection of school, the Arts and online access.

The place in a Venn Diagram where the different circles overlap is a geometric shape known as a Reuleaux triangle. It’s the place we’ll call “Online Arts Education”.

What Do Kids Like

Staying with your kids for a moment, allow me to take you a little tangent.

As we’ve been told repeatedly in our program, “Creating a New School Song”, children believe that the two most important qualities of a great teacher are 1) the ability to make learning fun and  2) caring for every student, especially when they're feeling lost or overwhelmed. We’ve done over 50 school songs and this never changes.

To me, “fun” encompasses all kinds of engagement, humor being most people’s favorite one. Engagement also includes movement the primary reason why all of our shows use movement. We live by the axiom, “move ‘em or lose ‘em”.

And what about "caring for every student"? When I think of a great teacher, it’s not just someone who fixes boo-boos or puts on kids’ coats (not unimportant things, mind you), but a teacher who has the super-power of addressing 25-35 children’s needs while not losing her cool.

Okay. Thanks for going on that tangent with me.

I wanted to use kids to define what children love about their school. (By the way, "friends" are their third favorite part of the school.) Children thrive when the content is engaging (fun) and addresses their needs (caring).

So, we’ve arrived at a place where we can agree one further assumption:

4) A great cultural arts program is engaging and meets/addresses children’s needs.

Online Vs. Live

And now I’d like to compare live and online assembly programs and see if Online Arts Education is worth the time and money. Let’s be curious together and begin with a fictitious story about a boy named Andre and our online or live program, "Beth & Scott's Nutrition Mission".

Beth & Scott's Nutrition Mission

Andre loved Beth and Scott’s assemblies as did most of the other third graders at Wynn School. He especially liked the story-song “Waiter, Water”, the time when he got up and danced to “Five Fruits and Vegetables” and when Scott pretends to be “The Cookie Man” and Beth pretends to be “The Ice Cream Girl”. Obviously, Andre loves to laugh.

If asked what lessons the show contained, Andre talks about having five fruits and vegetables every day (because it was repeated so many times in the song), that water is the most important drink (he thought it was milk) and dancing counts as part of the sixty minutes of exercise we need every day.

Finally, Andre liked sharing his opinions about what he liked with his teacher and Scott and Beth.

Assuming that we agree that Andre “got it” and enjoyed it, too, let’s find out – was this a live or online assembly? The answer is that it probably could have been either, but the truth is that it was presented online to five third grade classrooms. The giveaway was the last piece – the Q&A with his teacher and the artists. Although online arts education isn’t happening in the same room, it is uniquely up-close and personal. Whether it’s a workshop or an assembly, the access is often better online than it could be in a live setting. To us, a great Q&A is essential to caring for every child's needs.

Face to Face

Another aspect that we love about online programs is the proximity of us to the children. It’s better than a front-row seat and it’s much better than sitting in the middle of a gym or cafetorium 50-75 feet away from the performers. Children can see our eyes, and read our expressions as if they were sitting next to us. Closeness is another way of connecting!

To be fair, Andre will not get the same “buzz” of excitement sitting at home or in a classroom as he will in a room full of children. On the other hand, he won’t have to be distracted by Anneke repeatedly pulling at her velcro sneakers, either. Unfortunately, Andre and his friends won’t be able to join us on stage, though he will be encouraged to move, sing and do some signing with Beth. And he won’t be able to hear the sound of 300 children singing along to our songs due to the inherent latency (delay) problems associated with internet audio.

Latency is my least favorite part of Online Arts Education. I miss hearing everyone clap or sing together and it’s one of the many reasons why we should never give up on live performance, even if online programs have a lot of advantages.

Reaching More and Costing Less

Before we exit the topic, there are two other benefits of Online Arts Education that I’d like to name. These are benefits that Beth and I have created to bring more of the arts to more children:

  1. Our online programs are much less expensive than our live programs. We’ve shaved off 40-70% of our regular fees enabling schools that are facing steep corona-related budget cuts to be able to afford our programs; and
  2. Because we’re not traveling, rural schools we'd never reach can have our programs, too. In fact, we can perform anywhere in the USA or abroad from the comfort of our downstairs studio (see below).

Over the last few months, we’ve invested in one of the fastest computers on the market, new cameras, lights, blazing internet speed, and video switchers. We also created an online portal called Beth & Scott TV on our website. Thanks to our website developers, we're able to create block-booking opportunities for schools and other organizations that wish to share dates on our Online Concerts page.

Beth & Scott's TV Studio

Additionally, we have upgraded to ZOOM Webinar for teaching and yoga classes and, for larger concert audiences, VIMEO as the means for live streaming. To make us truly “universal”, we can now reach up to 80,000 screens simultaneously.

Hopefully, this article has piqued your curiosity about the power of online assembly programs. In part 2 of “Cultural Arts in the Corona Era”, I will examine workshops and residencies, my favorite way to engage children and teachers in Online Arts Education.

If you’re interested in having a conversation with us about your options, let us know. We’re here to make the next step easy, affordable, and effective for your school.

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