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The Power of the Arts


A Beijing-based foundation makes arts education accessible to rural learners

By Chen Ran

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The melody of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star floated from Duancun Township in north China’s Hebei Province. More than 40 pupils were playing orchestral instruments in accompaniment of choir peers at the inauguration ceremony of their new campus on September 28.

Each performer, aged between 7 and 11, revealed a sense of professionalism no different to one in any world-class orchestra, although their technique still needs refinement. Standing alongside were volunteer teachers supported by Hefeng Art Foundation from Beijing, some 150 km away, who have visited every weekend since March to offer free classes in the arts.

When the song finished, the applause was deafening. Six months of learning had clearly paid off.

Dream a little dream

Covering an area of 20,000 square meters, the new Duancun School campus has combined three local elementary schools—Dongdi, Xidi and Henancun—into one, benefiting some 1,000 pupils.

Li Feng has been working on the new campus since 2011 and is the founder of Hefeng Art Foundation, the country’s first private foundation aimed at providing arts education, popularization and promotion. The 50-something businessman has loved the arts since childhood and believes in them strongly.

"I think the arts are particularly useful in helping with poverty alleviation in developing countries like China, which has a large rural population," Li told Beijing Review. "I believe that the spiritual power of the arts can act as a social remedy or tool to be used against poverty."

That was the starting point for the foundation. One such project involved free weekend arts classes focusing on ballet, musical instruments, drama, choir singing and painting as a complement to the school curriculum in Duancun, the hometown of Li’s father.

"I think arts education can bring self-confidence and a sense of pride to rural children, which they didn’t have in the past," Li said. "In fact, there is little difference between children in rural and urban areas. The only problem is the difference in educational resources available to each group. Children in rural areas have far less access to any form of arts education."

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