Arsht Center Offers Culture to the (Whole) Miami Community

Kirsten Mattijsen and her sons Avi, Javi and Helo

Kirsten Mattijsen feels strongly about continuously introducing her three children to different styles of live music, saying it’s an important part of each one’s upbringing. Mattijen herself grew up going to theater – her mom was a costume designer – and she’s today married to the musical director at Kendall United Methodist Church. That’s why she brought her sons Avi (9,) Javi (5,) and Helo (16 months) to the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on a particular “Free Family Fest” afternoon that featured Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience – a performance of New Orleans style music featuring songs from Disney’s, The Princess and the Frog.

“I’m just glad Miami has opportunities for regular folks to get cultured,” says Mattijsen. “Being exposed to different kids of music is so important. It really shapes who you’ll become.”

It’s easy to think the Arsht Center – performance venue for Florida Grand Opera, Miami City Ballet, Broadway Across America, and a center for which even many patrons are marquee names – offers only elite experiences for only those with deep pockets. But behind the scenes, Arsht programming executives devote their time and resources also to developing productions for the entire community that are not only free – yes, as in ‘no money’ – but also easily accessible.

“As an institution, we have committed to providing experiences that will be meaningful to the residents of this community,” says Liz Wallace, the center’s vice president of programming. “Being inclusive is important to us and it’s important to the future of the performing arts. It’s very much a part of our mission.”

For the current season, Arsht extends its enriching arms to the community.

For dance and classical music, the center is prepared to familiarize us before each performance. Running through March, the classical music series includes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and if that sounds intimidating, know you don’t have to enter cold. Because even before the curtain opens, a local expert will head up a talk in the Knight Concert Hall about the style of music and the instruments involved. You don’t even need a ticket to attend this portion of the experience. For dance performances, the workshops are more hands on. Before the Flamenco Festival in March, it’s a lesson that will likely elevate the experience.

“It’s about putting the instruments in the student’s hands,” says Wallace. “Dancing is joyful. You don’t have to be an expert at it to appreciate the process of learning a Flamenco step.”

For the 12th consecutive season, the Arsht Center is offering Free Gospel Sundays. It’s a marriage, says Wallace, of a headliner, gospel singers and local luminary performers, as the Arsht Center invites choirs from around the community to participate.

“We are so fortunate to have them,” says Wallace. “Having the community participate in this series enhances the experience. And it showcases the talent in the community.”

And of course, there are the Free Family Fest days that parents such as Mattijsen – not to mention their children — enjoy. This season – in addition to New Orleans beats — brought the Miami Music Project and The Miami City’s Ballet’s “Ballet for Young People,” where kids can perhaps for the first time witness the first act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Says Mattijsen: “It really is awesome. We can’t get enough of these programs and because they’re free, we can come every time.”

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