Do Black People Do Classical Arts? (Part 3)

Lets just dive into this one shall we?  I recently returned home from a wonderful weekend away in New Orleans where I had the opportunity to sit in on a dance competition at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in the Treme 7th Ward Cultural District. I always feel at home amongst the arts. It doesn’t really matter the cultural flavor, there’s a tie that binds and it is glorious.

Truth be told, music flows through my entire family in one way or another. I remember when I was in 4th grade and I told my parents I wanted to play the viola. My dad was very upfront with me and explained that we did not have the money to do it that year. While I was very disappointed, I knew that if they could have made it happen for me, my parents would have. The next year was when band started and by then things had improved to the point that I was able to start learning the clarinet which led to many wonderful experiences in band and jazz band including a Disney Marching Parade experience in Orlando.

Something I did not know back in high school is that there were some instruments that I could have checked out from the school when I felt the first calling to join the orchestra that would have eliminated the need for my parents to try to come up with the money. I also knew little about fundraising and Kickstarter and GoFundMe were not even twinkles in the eyes of their creators at that point.

No one ever really challenged me to think about dance. So I shook my tail feature to the faint sounds of jazz and R&B that strained to reach us from their Chicago-based towers in the flat fields of eastern Iowa.

No one ever recruited me for show choir. So I found my choral home in my church choir which did not require that I sacrifice an academic period.

 When it came to band I fought hard to remain in the Symphonic Band because in high school we were encouraged to engage in that petty, misguided pecking order nonsense that declared Concert Band was for losers who could not hack he truly challenging music in the Symphonic Band.

All that aside, I know that I was made better through my exposure to Classical Arts growing up. My parents took me to a large variety of performances at the university and brought art into our home in addition to what I was included in my public school curriculum.

My experience got me thinking, are there families that do not even consider enrolling their young children in music, dance and drama youth programs for fear that they can not afford the expense? Are their parents who believe that they can’t afford to put art up on their walls so that they and their children can learn and enjoy the stimulation that comes from that form of study?

So as is my habit, I’m going to provide a few tips and tricks for how to open the door wide to the Arts even if you have little to no budget to do so for yourself as well as your family whether you live in a big city or out in a rural county.

1. Listen to Public Radio Stations

Long before we had digital music streaming services we “streamed” our music on the AM and FM radio bands. Guess what, y’all, they still work. Here is one of my favorites:

Radio is still one of the most cost effective ways to experience a wide variety of music. Nearly every community in the U.S. has a national public radio station. If there is a college or university nearby it is likely connected to the NPR station.

2. Attend College and University Recitals

Speaking of colleges… did you know that many local colleges have music programs and put on recitals that members of the general public can usually access real cheap if not for free. Sometimes you can even ask the instructor if you can sit in on a dress rehearsal or even better volunteer as stage crew if you just don’t have the money to pay for a ticket to the show. While I was living in Fayetteville (AR) I saw a great many performances for free while serving as a Walton Arts Center volunteer and by attending recitals and plays that were held on campus.

3. Watch for Free Community Arts Workshops/Clinics

You can find these announcements on community bulletin boards or by making friends with other community artist. Oftentimes the chairperson of the drama, fine arts, music programs will have local community contacts that tell them about these opportunities in advance.

4. Ask About Rental Instrument Options and Loan Programs (also ask family members and friends if they have an old instrument stored away that you can fix up and use)

There is no shame in asking people respectfully to help you get into the study of an art; however, it is important to make sure you invest the time into the art form. It’s also a good idea to update your sponsors on your journey periodically. Many people like to see the return on investment. Most importantly, ALWAYS take care of your instrument whether you buy or rent.

5. Hunt for Scholarships or Barter Services for Lessons

You might not have the money for piano lessons, but maybe there is a piano teacher in your neighborhood who has retired and would be willing to give you lessons in exchange for you raking and cutting their grass regularly. Don’t be afraid to work for your study opportunity.

6. Buy Prints and Have Them Framed Nicely

It is amazing how good a print (affordable reproduction of an original work of visual art) can look in a beautiful matte and frame up on the wall.

These are just a few suggestions. If you’d like more ideas drop me a question in the comments.

Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit

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