I have been a Minnesota resident for fewer than 2,000 hours. My wife and I relocated here from Texas in March so that I could take on the honor of leading one of the top performing-arts centers in America — the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. In my short time here, I have quickly learned that Minnesotans are exceptionally humble. Bragging is not a part of the culture here, and that is one thing that makes Minnesota special.
But I’m new here, so I’m going to do a bit of bragging for the next 500 words before officially becoming a humble Minnesotan.
The Flint Hills International Children’s Festival, presented by the Ordway, is one of the largest and best festivals of its kind in the nation. Being new to the area, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of attending the festival, but having worked in various arts organizations around North America, I’ve been observing it from afar for many years. Performing-arts organizations around the nation talk about the festival all the time. They look at it as the standard of what they want their festivals to be. They want to learn from it and emulate it. This festival and its positive impact on the local community is one of the reasons I took this job.
This will be the 16th consecutive year that the Ordway has partnered with Flint Hills Resources to host this magical family festival, and I can’t wait to experience it in person. The festival kicks off next Tuesday with School Week, when more than 20,000 students and teachers from around the state (a new record!) will experience the joy of live performance and arts education throughout the week.
The festival then opens to the public for Family Weekend, June 4-5, when 50,000 children and families will see downtown St. Paul transformed into an artistic wonderland and will celebrate the diverse cultures the Twin Cities have to offer.
The performing arts are all about creating memorable experiences that families can share together. That is the very fabric of why we do what we do at the Ordway. Watching television or staring at a screen is a passive experience, but live performance is different. It allows us to engage and connect in new ways. Bring a child to the Children’s Festival, and you’ll observe a look of delighted captivation when they see a live performance with international singers, dancers and actors. And the memory of watching a live show will stay with them for a very long time. As a parent, it is intoxicating to watch children’s lives change before your very eyes.
The hallmark of the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival is its accessibility. Indoor shows by international artists are just $5 and all outdoor shows and activities are free so families can experience the festival in whatever way suits them best.
Sixteen years far exceeds the average age of an international children’s festival, not because of interest, but because the economics are challenging. Bringing world-renowned international performers to Minnesota is expensive. Getting the right permits and coordinating all the details takes an immense amount of time. But children’s festivals are not done to generate revenue. They are done to improve lives and communities. They are done because organizations like the Ordway care about creating unforgettable experiences for families. They are done because companies like Flint Hills Resources care about improving the quality of life in Minnesota. The success of this festival is a direct result of the strong, long-term partnerships among the Ordway, its corporate sponsors and the communities we serve.
Whether you attend the festival every year or you’ve never been before, I urge you to visit downtown St. Paul June 4-5. I am so excited to experience my first Flint Hills International Children’s Festival and everything the event has to offer. If you see me there, please say “hi” and let me know what you think. It’s OK to brag a little!
Jamie Grant is president and CEO of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.