By Hannah E. Jones
For a few thousand local students, the start of this week was a lot more exciting than usual. On Oct. 24, about 5,150 students — including Atlanta Public School’s entire sixth grade — got to see a Tanzanian acrobatic troupe in action at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
The ZUZU African Acrobats troupe took the stage to celebrate the Bantu culture of East Africa. Each member of the cast has received special instructions from elders in the Bagamoyo Arts and Cultural Institute to showcase these traditional performances. The cast includes nine acrobats, three dancers and two musicians.
The one-hour show featured unicycle tricks, drums, human pyramids and many gravity-defying tricks with what resembled an oversized hula hoop — all to a soundtrack of children cheering with delight.
The performance is part of ArtBridge’s 2022/23 Field Trip program, curated to expose local students to a variety of STEAM experiences that align with their school’s curriculum. The initiative supports ArtBridge’s overarching goal of expanding arts education experiences for all Georgia students.
The ArtsBridge team believes that exposure to art, science and different cultures are critical experiences for the younger generations, helping them learn more about the world around them and explore possibilities for their futures. ArtsBridge Executive Director Jennifer D. Dobbs added that for many students, this field trip is their first time visiting a theater.
“During this tough time [of the pandemic], the arts served as really a creative, academic and mental health savior,” Dobbs said. “Yet unfortunately, we’re one of the least funded.”
The Amazon team shared a similar sentiment about the importance of creating these opportunities for local kids.
“We want to contribute to a vibrant Atlanta community and part of that is the arts and arts education,” said Terreta Rodgers, Amazon head of community affairs for the Atlanta region. “The next composer may be sitting in those seats on Monday or the next innovator or inventor. Having the chance to bring students together to experience art is an opportunity we welcome.”
For these metro Atlanta students, the live performance is a great way to learn about a culture that differs from their own.
“These are traditions that have been passed on for generations and it makes East Africans who they are,” said Stephan Huller, ZUZU Acrobats show producer. “They nourish and cultivate their arts because it helps define who they are in an age where everything is plastic and disposable.”
He continued: “[Art] comes from the essence of the human spirit.”
To ensure these experiences are available to all Georgia youth, the nonprofit offers financial aid for families who need the assistance. Today, 78 percent of all students receive financial subsidies. In addition to the monetary support, the organization helps fund transportation and provides lunch for each student.
“We’re not only trying to assist them with the cost of admission and cost of renting buses and hiring bus drivers, but we’re also trying to help their hunger pangs so that they can feel refreshed and focus on what, for some of them, is a very unique experience,” Dobbs said. “You don’t know how many students come into the building with [an expression of] wonderment.”
While the field trips are meant to be fun, they’re also aligned with the schools’ curricula, allowing the novel experiences to enrich the material taught in the classroom.
“I want the students to come away with an understanding of different music, different dance and African history,” Dobbs said. “We don’t want it to be a day off, but a day where [students] are learning but in a really fun, experiential way. With each field trip, we want them to come away with exposure to a new art form and appreciation of that art form.”