MPR Morning Edition

Monday, December 14, 2009
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Minneapolis, Minn. — When many people become parents, they say goodbye to going to the concerts, plays, and other cultural events.

It’s not just for lack of time. It’s also that highbrow audiences and the pre-potty trained mix like oil and water. Now an organization in the Twin Cities, called Mom Culture, is changing that.

It’s late morning at the Minnesota Opera Center in the Minneapolis Warehouse district. A large rehearsal room is awash in humanity, much of it very young.

They carry binkies and lunchboxes, favorite stuffed toys, and wear many, many boots. Lenore Moritz watches with a delighted smile. Everyone’s awaiting a trio of Minnesota Opera resident artists.

“And they are going to a performance exclusively for us,” she said. “And ‘us’ is moms and our 0-to-5-year-old children.”

Moritz is the founder of Mom Culture. At most classical concerts, a wailing child would focus the attention and the ire of an entire audience, while stressing the parent to distraction.

Here, Moritz says such sounds are just part of the wallpaper.

“That means your children can cry and run, and the moms and dads can just enjoy it, and take in this great culture, and get their culture fix. And then have a lunch afterward and socialize and meet each other.”

Moritz says she was a regular at museums, galleries, and concerts until the birth of her first child. It was only after she went to a special moms and movies event a couple of years later that she realized how much she missed attending cultural activities.

She began pitching the idea of doing special shows for parents and young children to Minnesota arts organizations.

One of the people she found was Jamie Nieman, the audience development associate at the Minnesota Opera. Nieman says she immediately saw the potential for a new source of opera-goers.

“Moms and dads are busy with their kids, and they don’t necessarily have time to come to the opera,” she said. “So when Lenore from Mom Culture reached out to me, I saw this as something that would benefit both of us.”

The opera isn’t charging Mom Culture for the event, writing it off as audience development. However Mom Culture will pay the performers out of ticket sales.

When everyone is settled, mezzo-soprano Nicole Percifield and soprano Naomi Isabel Ruiz take the stage with pianist Clinton Smith, and the hall becomes relatively quiet.

The adults in the audience seem captivated by the singing, although they tear themselves away occasionally to attend to some child need or other.

Some of the youngsters are also spellbound, staring open-mouthed at the singers producing this incredible sound. Others munch contentedly on apple slices and string cheese as they listen, and at least a couple are fast asleep.

At one point a toddler, complete with binky and blanket, walks up to within two feet of one of the singers to just stand and stare.

As the hubbub returns, performer Nicole Percifield admits it’s an unusual show.

“But it’s fun because you get to interact a lot then with the audience,” she said. “Even if they don’t understand anything that is going on, they still are present with you when you are going through it.”

At a nearby table, Maggie Thorror and her children Sam and Hannah also had a good time.

“I was told that the singers could sing louder than my baby could cry, and I think they proved correct,” said Maggie.

“Not me!” said Sam.

Toward the back of the room sits Melissa Ahrends and her son Oliver. They are Mom Culture veterans.

“These events make it really easy to see the opera, the ballet, the Walker Art Center and have him exposed to those things as well,” said Ahrends.

The next Mom Culture event is Thursday morning, with a special performance of the Nutcracker Fantasy by the Minnesota Dance Theater. Tickets are required for adults, but children aged 0-5 get in free.

For parents who need more than the performances, Lenore Moritz is expanding the Mom Culture Web site with interviews of artists around the country. She is also talking to people in other cities about setting up other Mom Culture groups.