Jean Howat Berry is the new education and outreach manager at Cityfolk.
Cityfolk is the Dayton-based “only full-time, professional presenter of traditional and ethnic performing arts” in Ohio, according to the Cityfolk website.
Berry’s main responsibility is overseeing the Culture Builds Community program, which is in its sixth year.
“The main thrust of the job is this huge project that happens in the spring,” said Berry.
The CBC project, which culminates in April, focuses on engaging participating elementary students in research and practice of specific cultural activities. The project incorporates local ethnic centers and national and local artists of music and dance.
This year’s Culture Builds Community project is called Sole Rhythms and five neighborhood schools are participating. The schools are Ruskin, Edison, Cleveland, Kiser and Fairview elementary schools.
Each school has its own team that focuses on an assigned specific cultural tradition.
Berry said this year’s theme is percussion music and dance. The traditions of focus include Turkish dance, Mexican folk dance, traditional American spirituals and the roots of jazz, the African American fraternity step dance tradition and old time clogging of Appalachia mixed with Irish step dance.
“The whole idea, and what City Folk strives to do with this, is build community,” she said. “There’s so many different facets to Dayton, because we are so immigrant friendly and because we have tremendous gifted artists that work here, we’re able to pull all those folks together to build a team that can go out and connect with those many communities. Because we’re all really one big community.”
Within the context of the schools, CBC helps kids learn new skills, new information about culture and practice physical activity, since this year’s project is a danced based program.
“Kids have the opportunity to use all facets of themselves within the project,” Berry said.
She said from the kids perspective, the project is completely voluntary. CBC provides a few teasers informing the students about their school’s cultural focus. They will then take 15 students 5th through 8th grade and another 10 participants at 16 and older.
According to Berry, last year’s project only encompassed three schools and took ten students from each. So this year’s project is taking on two-to-three times as many participants.
She wants participants to be educated in their specific cultures, but more so she wants them to learn the importance of commitment.
“We want it to be at will, we want a particular age group, but we mostly want commitment, and that’s something this project really seeks to develop in the young people,” Berry said.
Berry said her previous job working at East End Community Services, which sponsors Ruskin Elementary afterschool programming, prepared her well for her new position. Her theatre background will also be helpful in her new role. She said she’s played the role of the artist educating kids in the classroom, just as the artists she’s assigning to the five groups will do.
Berry said CBC has a fairly broad funding base for this project that includes Sinclair Community College, Dayton Power and Light, Target and Arts Midwest.
“It’s a really exciting program,” Berry said. “I just think that it has the capacity by what it’s goals are to continue to grow and to be a real force for bringing folks together in Dayton and that’s what we really want to reach out and do.”
For more information visit Culture Builds Community online at http://www.cityfolk.org/cbc.htm.