Michelle Obama has chosen the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School for the visit of the G20 spouses this morning. In London, the spouses were treated to performances from school children, J K Rowling, Ballet Black, the Royal Ballet and young singers at the Royal Opera House.
The CAPA School teaches students in dance, music, theatre and visual arts from the ages of 12 to 18 – a similar programme to our own Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts based at Paul McCartney’s old school. As Michelle says as she addresses the spouses, arts education is such an important part of how we learn, and what we take with us through our lives.
I have a great time talking to high school senior student, Jessica Savits who takes a group of spouses for a tour of the school – watch out for her one day on Broadway or our West End. In my touring group I am with India’s first lady, Gursharan Kaur, Sweden’s Filippa Reinfeldt and wife of the Spanish PM, Sonsoles Zapatero. In one class we visit, a group of dancers are practicing in front of a stunning backdrop of Pittsburgh’s famous steel bridges, out full-length windows. Then we listen to members of the school choir singing Danny Boy and True Light.
All the spouses meet up together and for our customary group photo we are treated to inspiring performances from the student choir. We also see the stunning world class cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform with talented student percussionist Jason Yoder. Extra treats come from country singer Trisha Yearwood and pianist and singer Sara Bareilles, whom Michelle admits is her ipod favourite.
Our lunch together is held at the new and impressive Andy Warhol Museum. The pop-culture artist was born here in Pittsburgh in 1928, and the museum houses some of his most iconic works. If you are a fan, it is worth a visit just to come here.
We all get to look at the Warhol works of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis as American icons (and in the UK you can enjoy these in a month when a touring Warhol exhibition comes to Tate Modern). The museum director, Tom Sokolowski and his staff give us a close up look at how the prints are made using silk screening techniques and we are offered a chance to have a go. My personal experience with toddler finger-painting tells me the chances of making a huge mess are quite high, but thankfully, I survive the experience without incident and have a screen printed tote bag to take home. Here I get the chance to talk to the First Ladies of South Africa, Indonesia, Turkey and Canada.
Our lunch is a great treat with more organic local produce including pumpkin soup, followed by mushroom tart and crabcakes followed by a poached pear for dessert. I am thrilled to be seated next to Yo-Yo Ma for lunch who is not just one of the most sought-after, award-winning cellists, but personally committed to music education reaching out to children all over the world. He is an absolute joy to talk to. Following his performance with 16-year old Jason at the school, we ask ourselves how many 16-year olds know what they want to do with their lives at that point.
Michelle brings our time together to a close, with a toast. As I leave I get one of Michelle’s famous big hugs – she has been a wonderful hostess.