A family’s donation to the Fresno Unified School District is sending students to local theater productions for free, and also will provide a six-week arts program this summer.
Fresnans Francine and Murray Farber donated $100,000 to the district to create a new project called Fifth Grade on Broadway. The program sends fifth-graders from 15 Fresno Unified elementary schools to local theater performances, in addition to developing a production of their own.
On Friday, more than 350 students from Storey, Turner, Fremont and Jefferson elementary schools saw Fresno State’s production of “Blue Willow.” In recent months, hundreds of students have seen other shows, thanks to the Farbers.
Their gift also will go toward launching a summer program focused on theater arts, with help from teaching artists at the Fresno Arts Council. Up to 200 students will participate in the program at Roosevelt High School, a magnet school that focuses on performing arts.
Fresno has a lot to offer in the arts.
Francine Farber, who has been a musician since she was 5 years old and plays the cello for the Fresno City College String Orchestra, said exposure to the arts helps provide students with a well-rounded education, regardless of their career path.
“It gives an opportunity to students to express themselves, especially students who may not otherwise be drawn to the arts or may not have access to programs. Fresno has a lot to offer in the arts,” she said.
“We don’t know if a student today who saw the play, if it will propel them to become an actress or involved in the arts in some way. It can be a lifelong addiction once you get started.”
The Farbers also have helped Fresno Unified students in other ways. The Steve’s Scholars program is in memory of their late son, and was launched in 2012, providing a $1 million endowment from his estate to go toward students’ college funds.
Fresno Unified school board President Luis Chavez pointed to research that shows quality arts programs can increase students’ grades and morale.
“We also know experiences in the arts make our students more tolerant, empathic, and we suspect their awareness of different people, places and ideas through the arts helps them appreciate and accept differences they find in the broader world,” he said.
“Arts experiences also boost critical thinking, teaching our students to take the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe the world.”