Lee Elementary's fundraiser unites cultures

Friday, April 24, 2009 | 8:19 p.m. CDT; updated 8:09 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 25, 2009
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The Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School PTA hosted its third annual Taste of the World fundraiser at the Missouri Theater on Friday, April, 24. Students, parents, teachers and other supporters came to taste exotic cuisine donated by local restaurants and shops.

After eating, the guests watched a performance by seven international acts from around town, including the Missouri Contemporary Ballet, the Friends of China dance ensemble and Poetry in Motion. Some of the students also showcased their own African drumming.

COLUMBIA - Life is a mystery and love is a dancer.

That was the theme of Lee Elementary School’s "Taste of the World" fundraiser on Friday at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.

Although this was the third year for the cultural celebration, this year was the first that the theater has partnered with the school for the event, thanks in part to David A. White III, Lee Elementary PTA president and executive director of the Missouri Theatre.

“(It’s) the idea of bringing cultural diversity that Lee School represents in an adult atmosphere,” White said. “Add a little food here, a little food there, and it blossoms into this really cool thing.”

Seven restaurants around Columbia, including El Maguey, Sparky’s and Thai Kitchen, donated a wide array of ethnic food to the festivities. The program also boasted seven dance teams whose styles spanned numerous cultures.

About 150 people attended Friday’s fundraiser. Happy with the turnout, Lee Elementary teacher Ann Mehr said, “(The school) gives children so much and gives back to the community. Lee is a showcase for public education in the Columbia community.”

Although raising funds for the arts program was the listed intent, the true goal for White was unity through the arts.

For a school that represents 40 countries across the globe, cultural unity is an imperative. White stressed the importance of leaving the comfort of one’s own ethnic group and learning to interact, or dance, with one another.

White said the event's finale featured people from different cultures, teaching others their own cultural dances and creating a space where cultures overlapped to form one seamless orchestration.

“(People will) look at one another and say, ‘We dance the same way they do,’" White said.

And in his opinion, that is the true mark of success. “It doesn’t matter (how much we raise). We’re going to have an experience," White said.

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