Arts showcase gives Howard PTAs live look at programs

The Black Box Theatre at the Howard County Center for the Arts was alive with music, and the audience was off its feet, dancing to the rhythms of Enviro Drum-Maryland, a group of performing artists that creates a rhythm section from repurposed materials like trash cans and recycling bins.

The group had just eight minutes to perform for the audience of PTA members and teachers, who were looking March 1 for performers to bring entertaining and educational programs to their schools.

For more than 20 years, the Howard County Center for the Arts, in Ellicott City, has hosted the annual Cultural Arts Showcase, attracting performers and other artists from as far as Chicago in a bid to win bookings at local schools.

"It's very helpful," said Julie Neaman of the Manor Woods PTA, who was attending for the first time and was looking for an artist for a week-long artist-in-residence program.

"I've found some good options," she said, adding that she liked being able to talk to the artists.

Dena Taylor, who is in charge of cultural arts for the Cedar Lane School PTA, said the showcase is a great way to see the work of many artists at once, and to talk to them about the specific requirements of her school. This is her second year at the showcase, she said. Finding cultural arts performers for Cedar Lane is particularly challenging, she said, because the student population goes to age 21, and includes students with a range of disabilities.

"When you find the right program, they love it," said Taylor, whose son, Matthew, who has autism, is in seventh grade at the school.

This was the first year the showcase had been one day instead of two, said Dan Vellucci, grants and special projects coordinator for the Howard County Arts Council. About 35 performers were in attendance.

"We try to get as many culturally significant artists as we can," he said.

The performers send in applications with videos of their performance, and they are reviewed for inclusion in the day-long event.

The performers had just eight minutes to showcase their work and explain its educational benefits. When they weren't on stage, they stood or sat beside displays with videos, props and promotional materials, or milled around, talking.

Enviro Drum-Maryland, which formed about a year ago, is an offshoot of a Toronto group, and consists of keyboardist-vocalist Ro Cube, and percussionists Wes Crawford, Joanna Huling and Tarek Mohamed.

"We're all full-time musicians," said Crawford, who said the group has some original music, and also changes the lyrics of songs to give them environmental messages.

Like other performers at the event, Crawford said his group performs at schools and other venues, and is willing to travel for a booking.

Some artists, including Chris Davis, "The Renaissance Man," were in costume.

Davis, who lives in Columbia, said he has been providing his interactive educational programs since 1994, and was attending the Howard County showcase for the third time.

"This is a top-notch showcase," he said. "More schools need to know about me and more schools need to hire me."

Planning an eight-minute show can be a challenge for the performers, since they typically offer programs for a range of grades, and include student participation. Davis said his show will require just two volunteers, and will move more quickly than a performance he would do for students.

John "Kinderman" Taylor, wore a bow tie and bowler hat, and sat beside his "Kinder Twin," Dillon Clarke, wearing similar attire. Taylor, 76, has been performing since the 1970s, and said in 1978 he taught Oprah Winfrey "to do the hustle."

His public-television show, "The Kinderman Show," won three Emmys. Based in Howard County, he performs frequently in local schools, but also travels the entire country, he said. At one time, he did 500 shows a year, but now he's down to about 60, he said.

"This is the best job in the world," he said. "The kids respond to me."

Diane Macklin, a storyteller based in Baltimore, performs throughout the Baltimore and Washington region, and attends several showcases a year.

"I love this one," she said. "What I find is that the people who came to this showcase are very interested in how to enrich the lives of the children in their schools and they're proactive in finding something new and fresh for them."

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