Performing arts head seeks community involvement

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“Arts can be the heart of the school,” says Ida Pappas, performing arts coordinator for the Canton Public Schools. “Arts can be the pumping heart that brings us all together. And the beauty is that everyone can participate in a wide variety of ways. Students, faculty, administration, parents and residents. We need musicians, actors, singers, dancers, writers, graphic designers, carpenters, seamstresses, makeup artists, hair stylists — even people who can help by picking up and dropping off things.”

Ida Pappas

Ida Pappas

Pappas has as her number-one goal to build a sense of community through the arts — within the school as well as the public at large. She strongly believes that the arts can provide a vehicle for people to collaborate, build respect toward one another, and expand one’s understanding of other people’s perspectives and feelings.

Now in her second year in the Canton school system, Pappas has taught everything from pre-K through high school during her 23 years in education. She has a BA in voice performance in music theater from Duquesne University, an MA in music education from Boston University, and is nearly finished with her PhD in education from Lesley University. In fact, her research project for that degree is her dissertation on interdisciplinary arts and the community.

“I’m using this year’s production of our musical, Once on This Island, as my research project,” she said. “The question I’m looking to answer is: Can interdisciplinary arts build a sense of community?”

Pappas said the benefits of arts learning can be seen very early in childhood. “It enhances and molds the very structure of our brains,” she said. “The earlier the better!”

Once the brain is structurally set, as with  high school students, the focus of the arts then shifts to skill and knowledge building, creative interpretations, and making connections to culture and other disciplines, Pappas said.

She is a huge fan of interdisciplinary cooperation and project-based learning. “Our musical, Once on This Island, which will be performed in the spring, is set somewhere in the Caribbean,” she said. “We’re placing it in Haiti. It’s a story about class differences: the very rich and the very poor, the educated and the uneducated, the powerful and the powerless. It is a timeless story.”

To help the cast, Pappas said she would love to have faculty or guests who have expertise in history, economics and culture to speak to the actors and help them understand the real-life issues behind the script. Actors will then naturally be able to tap into that knowledge to bring a powerful performance to the table.

“The same is true for the community at large,” Pappas said. “The play will be set in Haiti. It would be wonderful if we had knowledgeable community members who would share their cultural or professional expertise — teaching our students with their life experience.”

Pappas realizes that involving the school and the town will be an ongoing process. And the first step is to find people willing to help.

“If you have any kind of talent we can use — music, acting, writing, designing, construction, hair and makeup — particularly with knowledge of Haitian culture, please volunteer to help,” she said. “It will be good for our students, and I promise you it will be good for our community.”

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