The Washington Ballet and Arena Stage use the arts to help end child trafficking.
By Julia Blakeley
Philanthropic-minded arts patrons gathered recently to celebrate Washington’s thriving performing arts community, but also draw attention to a grave issue affecting our city’s youth: human trafficking. Innocents at Risk‘s sixth annual fundraiser treated guests to Arena Stage‘s performance of Meredith Wilson’s classic “The Music Man.” The evening also honored Washington Ballet’s Artistic Director Septime Webre. “Right here, in our own town and in our own city, we have our own music man,” said the group’s founder and president, Deborah S. Sigmund, referring to Webre.
A red carpet led to a spirited reception in which Sigmund honored Webre, followed by a performance of “The Music Man,” directed by Arena’s longtime Artistic Director Molly Smith and featuring Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin. An American classic, the legendary musical with book, music and lyrics by Wilson, is based on a story he wrote in the 1950s with Franklin Lacey. Following the performance, guests were treated to a dessert and champagne reception on Arena’s rooftop.
Sigmund lauded Webre for giving underprivileged children in the Southeast and Southwest quadrants of the city the opportunity to participate in the arts in a safe setting. A member of the ballet’s board, Sigmund said that the new arts building has enabled underprivileged children to thrive in a safe, comfortable setting. “We took the arts right here to Anacostia and that has been such a blessing,” she said. ”The children have thrived because it’s a safe haven, it’s a bright spot where two million children are taken every year and are picked up off the streets by traffickers.”
ABC 7 News reporter and anchor Pamela Brown served as the evening’s emcee. “It’s important that we understand what the reality is,” Brown said. “We need to raise awareness to help and protect children from harm’s way to make sure that no child is exploited. We believe awareness is prevention.”
Sigmund founded Innocents at Risk in 2004, believing there needed to be a group that works to raise awareness and protect children worldwide from the $32 billion human trafficking industry. She is driven to end child exploitation because of her own children.
The program has produced educational DVDs, short films and YouTube videos and recently launched the Flight Attendant Initiative, which provides 19,000 American Airlines flight attendants with informational brochures to know how to spot signs of trafficking as well as a hotline to report suspicious behavior.
“Our greatest weapon is to raise awareness,” said Sigmund.