Anne Grady never imagined her son, Christian, would perform onstage.
But, for the past five summers, he has sung, danced and acted his heart out with other kids who enjoy the same things as him.
Christian has Down syndrome and a number of medical conditions, but that didn’t stop him from participating in Arts Alive, his mom said.
“Christian has been fully included to the maximum extent possible, in every aspect of the arts,” Grady said, adding musical theater is her son’s favorite portion of the program. “The director, faculty, staff and especially the other students have been exceptional over the past five years. It’s heartwarming to see Christian participate.”
Summer arts institute Arts Alive has given Northeast Pennsylvania students a setting to express themselves and create through visual and performing arts for nearly three decades.
The culmination of this year’s programs takes place Thursday, July 27, and Friday, July 28. Visual arts students will present their final exhibit Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. in the lobby of Career Technology Center of Lackwanna County, 3201 Rockwell Ave, Scranton.
The performing arts final show, “You Bettah Work!”, takes place Friday at 7 p.m. at Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton, and features numbers about different occupations, with each song sponsored by a local business in that particular field.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the worst singer or the best singer, or if you’re nervous to sing or act or dance in front of people. It’s okay, because there is a whole room full of people ready to sing and act with you and just lift you up,” said performing arts student and Lackawanna Trail Junior-Senior High School freshman Madison Norman. “At Arts Alive, it’s not about who’s the best, it’s about all coming together to put on this show, and being with people who love all the stuff you love and want you to succeed and have fun. It’s really a family.”
Catherine Richmond-Cullen, Ed.D., regional director of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Partnership at Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit and director of Arts Alive, said the program is about giving each and every student a space to be themselves.
“My goal as director, and I’m sure this goes for all instructors across all disciplines, is for those who come here to have a place to be anything they want to be and be completely accepting of who they truly are,” Cullen said.
New this year, the institute invited senior citizens to participate in the visual arts program for an inter-generational research study led by Cullen and funded by the Secretary of Aging and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, partnered locally with Abington Senior Center. Seniors Marie Mohila and Martha McAndrew enjoy their time there.
“The students are very energetic, eager to learn and so artistic,” Mohila said. “I’ve really loved to be around them and their spirit. I wish there was something like this when I was their age.”
“I’m 84 years old and I don’t get the chance to be with so many young people,” McAndrew, who has no children or grandchildren of her own, added. “I smile and they smile back at me and we chat. I enjoy it immensely.”
Making the arts accessible to everyone is one of the cornerstones of Arts Alive, and it also includes offering scholarships to students who might not have the chance to attend the institute otherwise. Though the program receives state grant funding, some important regional funding wasn’t attained this year and scholarships for 17 students needed to be met. As a team, students, instructors and parents headed out into the community in search of donations and brainstormed other fundraising ideas.
At the final performance and exhibit, bracelets, made by the students, will be sold, as well as baskets available for raffle.
“They did all this,” Cullen said. “This program has always been a wonderful collaborative effort between our students, parents, instructors and community members. Now, for the community to come to our assistance in a time of great need, we’re so grateful.”
Arts Alive holds a place in the hearts of students from the visual and performing art programs and they understand the importance of making sure the same experience is available to others.
Elaina Cohen has spent several summers in the visual arts program. She feels the impact of the program as far as making lasting bonds with those with similar interests, but understands the deeper meaning. The Dunmore High School student, who will be a senior this year, plans to be an architect and realizes the value of Arts Alive’s lessons as a supplement to what’s learned in the classroom during the school year.
“In school, you have to do ‘A,’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ to get the answer, but this is a place where you can actually do it and use it and really create something,” Elaina said. “And sometimes, it takes a lot to even put yourself and your stuff out there, but when you do, it’s an amazing feeling, and that’s what happens here.”