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Butler Magazine

Kaboom! A Lifelong Arts Lover is Born!


By Marc D. Allan

On an early-February weekday morning, a wave of about two dozen elementary school students walks into Clowes Memorial Hall expecting to see an explosion. Within 30 minutes, they’re surrounded by about 1,200 of their peers from schools from as far away as Kokomo and Frankfort and as close as Carmel and Washington Township.

They’re all here to see Doktor Kaboom!, a quick-witted performer with a faux-German accent and Guy Fieri-like spiky blond hair whose show, It’s Just Rocket Science, offers lessons about scientific principles such as centrifugal force and exothermal reactions.

To put it another way, he makes water and balloons fly, shoots plastic bottles into the audience using vinegar and baking soda, and employs the force of a specially modified fire extinguisher to get a wagon with a rocket on top (and a student on top of that) to zip across the stage. He even shows some mathematical patterns to convince the kids that math is fun.

After 75 happy, rousing minutes, he’s energized a roomful of potentially skeptical students and shown them that “science is for everyone. If you apply yourself, you can master science.”

And by spreading that message, he’s helped Donna Rund fulfill her mission. Rund is the Education Manager at Clowes, which every year presents 12-15 matinees that bring 25,000-30,000 Central Indiana pre-kindergarten through high school students to Butler for educational programs and events.

This educational outreach pays off in multiple ways. Whether it’s Doktor Kaboom!, a performance of Charlotte’s Web, or a concert by the Butler Percussion Ensemble, students leave enthused and enlightened, their horizons broadened by combinations of statecraft and science, or perhaps theatre and literature, or music and world culture. These performances get students from elementary, middle, and high schools to the Butler campus—and potentially interested in Butler for college. And they build future audiences for Clowes Hall.

The Clowes School Matinee Series, as it’s known, is one of several ways in which Clowes Hall fulfills its education mission for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Clowes also hosts the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards, which allows students in grades 7 through 12 from public, private, or home schools to apply in 33 categories of art and writing for a chance to earn scholarships and have their works exhibited and published.

Scholastic and Clowes have been working together since 2010. In addition to bringing hundreds of students and their families to Butler, Rund said this partnership enables Clowes to serve the upper grades and offers a way for Butler’s Art + Design program to meet some of the best and brightest kids in the area.

A third part of Clowes’s educational mission is hosting professional development workshops that help teachers understand how to use the arts to engage students in all areas of instruction. A typical workshop: Integrating Movement and Dance Into Everyday Education. Clowes holds about six of these sessions a year, bringing about 100 teachers to campus each year as well as attracting both undergraduates and grad students from the College of Education and Jordan College of the Arts.


Clowes’s education programming began in earnest in 1991, when the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, selected six sites across the nation to begin an arts education program called Partners in Education. The program connects an arts organization—in this case, Clowes Hall—and a school district—at the time, the Indianapolis Public Schools; now the Northwestern Shelby (County) School District—and the Kennedy Center.

“The initial approach was to build capacity in teachers,” said Rund, a former teacher who joined the Clowes staff in 1999. “If you help them understand how the arts can engage students in the classrooms, you’re affecting a lot more students.”

The Kennedy Center provides resources for Clowes and its chosen school district to work together. One way they do that is to bring teaching artists to schools to help teachers. Last September, for example, Clowes sent a storyteller and actor to work with teachers on the art of storytelling, writing, and using theater to build their presentation skills.

The Kennedy Center also provides educational materials that teachers who bring students to Clowes can use to augment their lessons. So a Doktor Kaboom! show is more than an entertaining field trip and half-day away from school—it’s a way to excite the students and make topics like science relevant.

The effort clearly is working.

Jill Hayes and the other fifth-grade teachers at South Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis took 100 students to the Doktor Kaboom! show. Weeks before the performance, the teachers were able to access preview information about the show online so they could prepare the students with vocabulary and other information about what they would be seeing. For weeks after, they were excited about science.

“When the kids can see things hands-on and they can see it being lived out in front of them like it is when it’s onstage there, it lights that spark for them and they’re excited about it,” Hayes said. “It’s helpful to have things acted out in front of them.”

And will she come back? “Absolutely.”