Voices :: High hopes for a leader in arts education on Hennepin

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November 23, 2009 // UPDATED 8:47 am - November 23, 2009
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch
Driving west in my car on Hennepin Avenue after the recent switch from one-way to two-way traffic gives me a fresh outlook on what before seemed like very familiar territory.

While this is an obvious change to the avenue, there’s another important development that also offers a fresh outlook. The former InterDistrict Downtown School, which opened in 1999 on the corner of 10th and Hennepin, has evolved into the Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource (FAIR) Downtown School. The school began its curriculum redesign this fall and will soon begin a public roll-out to broadly promote the change to students and parents who may be contemplating a fine arts, interdisciplinary focus for the next school year.

The FAIR Downtown School is one of two schools created by the West Metro Education Program (WMEP) to voluntarily desegregate, eliminate the racial achievement gap and educate students from eleven different school districts. The other WMEP school is FAIR Crystal.

FAIR Downtown is a tuition-free, K-12 Fine Arts magnet school. With its newly formed curriculum, the school, in addition to a rigorous academic curriculum, is aligning itself with other public and private downtown organizations including arts, government and business groups to enhance the educational experience. With 500 students, FAIR Downtown is one of the only schools in the heart of Minneapolis with an all-day, tuition-free kindergarten.

Hennepin Theatre Trust, the organization I lead, has a special interest in the FAIR Downtown School. We have partnered with them for several years through our Critical View student reviewer program. Kids participating in Critical View prepare for and see several Broadway productions. They learn from professional artists and educators and hone their critical thinking skills by writing reviews about these performances. When students complete the program, our goal is that they have become sharper thinkers, better writers and more confident theatre-goers. We want to help these kids be happy, successful and more engaged members of our community.

Our dream is that FAIR Downtown takes over the Hennepin Theatre District as a giant classroom for arts and learning. We want to see diverse students in an academically challenging and engaging school environment who are also involved in theatre, dance, film, writing as they make their way through school in preparation for life.

If you’re as excited as we are about what this could mean for your student, I encourage you to check out more information on FAIR Downtown School by clicking on wmep.k12.mn.us/idds/new/ or accessing it through our website at hennepintheatretrust.org. And, don’t forget, you can get to the school going either way on Hennepin Avenue!

Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.