The Arts Wide-Open program within Temple Performing Arts Center offers local kids art and musical opportunities on Main Campus.
The Baptist Temple is huge. It is centered on Temple’s Broad Street front and believed to inspire Russell Conwell to name the university as he did.
The Baptist Temple reopened to the public last year, newly christened as the Temple Performing Arts Center. It can seat approximately 1,200 people and is equipped to host a range of events, from symphony concerts to board meeting to weddings.
Yet, few know anything about it.
“Someone actually stopped me and asked if it was open for her to go in and say a prayer,” said Dustin Krautter, the event coordinator at TPAC. “People don’t realize [it’s] not a church anymore.”
Overshadowed by the vibrant arts scenes in Center City and even Main Campus’ Liacouras Center, The Baptist Temple sits as a gray stone mass, attesting to the disinterest in North Philadelphia neighborhoods.
But the people at TPAC are working to change this. In January, TPAC was awarded a $20,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of its Knights Arts Challenge. With the grant money, TPAC plans to provide arts-based programming to local school children, who have had arts funding cuts in their districts.
This is the first year for the Knight Arts Challenge in Philadelphia, which has been running in Miami, the Foundation’s home base, for four years, said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the program director for the Knight Foundation in Philadelphia.
“We received 1,752 submissions, of which 66 were invited to submit final proposals, and 36 grants were awarded, totaling $2.7 million,” Frisby-Greenwood said. “We basically asked people to give us their best idea.”
“We are inviting [the students] to take an hour from their school day to come here and learn about the arts,” Krautter said. “And [we] have been working with various principals to get the kids here.”
“Temple’s proposal was interesting because they are opening up their very beautiful arts building to school children who wouldn’t normally get this opportunity, and they are connecting them with professional artists,” Frisby-Greenwood said
“It connects them to a major university in their area, some of those kids may have never stepped foot on campus before,” Greenwood added.
TPAC Director Valarie McDuffie said the director of community development wrote a proposal centered on some of the key values of the Performing Arts Center: education, the arts and the school children.
“The program is designed to get the community engaged,” McDuffie said.
“Because funding in music is so decreased, they don’t have access [to resources]. Here we help connect them to a bigger world of arts,” said Tiana Bennett, a senior psychology major and TPAC intern.
Philadelphia school districts had to cut more than $600 million from their budgets for this fiscal year, meaning less of everything for the students, but especially arts programs.
Bennett was first introduced to the Arts Wide-Open program by Charles Bethea, a former director in the office, who was very passionate about the North Philadelphia initiative and finding schools to provide with educational arts events. Bennett now writes a blog as part of the mission of the project, as a way to document Arts Wide-Open and let the community know what it can be a part of.
Other interns handle various projects around the office to prepare for the students coming in, from confirming bus transportation to designing the puzzles and games that appear in event programs.
“We want to engage [the] local community so they have an appreciation for the arts as well as want to come back to the center and see other things,” McDuffie said. “The feedback so far has been very positive.”
“The students really appreciate this opportunity and the hands-on demonstrations,” she added.
TPAC hosted two events this fall as part of Arts Wide-Open: Musicopia and Jose Porcel. TPAC coordinators said they hope to host two more evens in the spring semester that offer more workshops and demonstrations for the students.
Musicopia, a music group that specializes in educational workshops, came to North Broad in October to work with a group of approximately 500 students, aged from kindergarten to fifth grade, Krautter said. They taught the kids about poetry and read Dr. Seuss stories to hip-hop beats.
Jose Porcel, a flamenco dancer, came Nov. 3 and hosted students from three of North Philadelphia’s high schools: William Bodine High School for International Affairs, Kensington CAPA and the Charles Carroll School.
Krautter said the event was a more discussion-based activity, but Porcel invited the children on stage to dance with him, which they enjoyed.
“Bringing the right mix of arts in for the students, I think that’s critical,” McDuffie said. “We have to be sure the performers have something to teach.”
“We are trying to open it up to everyone,” Krautter said. “Exposure is one of our main goals. We are opening doors to what people don’t know exists.”
Though no decisions have been made as to the spring programming, there have been many inquiries from the surrounding schools, asking how they can get involved, Krautter said.
Rachel McDevitt can be reached at email@example.com.