Fine arts take flight and soar at Kroc Centers

The six Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers in the Central Territory have begun to experience a resurgence in music and the arts through a Fine Arts Grant Initiative. Rolled out in the last year, the initiative is intended to breathe new life into fine arts programs where momentum may have stalled due to changes in leadership or lack of resources. A critical component has been hiring highly qualified managers to oversee the development of fine arts programs. While opportunities may vary from location to location, possibilities are multiplying, people are developing and using their gifts, and attendance is on the rise.

Taking it to the next level: Chicago, Ill.

The grant has allowed the Chicago, Ill., Kroc Center to raise the bar particularly for its music programs with the addition of Michael LaDisa, music and gospel arts manager. With degrees in music and intercultural studies, Michael has amplified by ability level the number of classes in piano, guitar and vocal and introduced percussion and digital music production, which has proven wildly popular. He also has hired instructors for improved continuity.

Another important emphasis is the dance, theater and visual arts programs for which Tasha Gibson, performance and visual arts manager, provides vision and direction. The award-winning Kroc School of Dance produces youth dance companies for performance and competitions. Tasha wants to get kids moving in ballet or hip-hop as recreation. Students who become interested in performance receive more intensive training in these genres, as well as jazz and modern. Other youth are finding fulfillment in theater as they learn production and performance skills.

Mission engagement is achieved through a commitment by staff to an Arts and Education Mission Integration Initiative. This can be expressed in a number of ways, including opening or closing a class in prayer, reading a passage of scripture or sharing an inspirational story.

Revamping for the future: Green Bay, Wis.

At the Green Bay, Wis., Kroc Center, Terry Brennan has served as the arts and education manager for four years. Because of the initiative he was able to create a new piano lab, hire more instructors and add to the number and variety of fine arts class offerings, leading to a 50 percent increase in enrollment!

The center offers classes in dance, music and creative arts for all ages. Dance classes, including ballet, jazz, hip-hop and ballroom, are prominent; there’s even a new competitive dance company. Piano and guitar are taught in group and private settings, and ukulele classes have been added. Parent-tot music and art classes bring parents and their kids together for fun, creative activities.

“My passion and my vision are being realized,” said Terry.

The Green Bay Kroc Center hopes to expand the chapel platform and revamp some seating into tiers which will increase platform visibility and functionality for all programs, as well as for outside groups renting the space.

Empowering through the arts: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Alyson Rodriguez, the new fine arts supervisor at the Grand Rapids, Mich., Kroc Center, believes artistic expression—whether visual, musical or performance—transcends barriers and unites, inspires and transforms people.

“My identity and role as an artist is to empower others through the arts,” said Alyson. “This place is doing amazing work in the community.”

There’s acrylic painting for adults and watercolor and ceramic classes for ages 7 plus. Younger children can enjoy parent-tot art classes and “Music and Me.” There’s also a theater workshop for ages 8-14.

Alyson has been working to expand and build the Kroc’s fine arts program by connecting with other organizations for collaboration. For instance, through a partnership with HIS Christian Dance Academy, the center offers ballet classes for ages 2 to 10 and contemporary dance for adults.

“Grand Rapids has a thriving arts scene. It’s home to two major art museums, an art college, a symphony, a ballet company and a civic theater, but not everyone in our city can enjoy these arts,” Alyson continued. “This is another gap we can fill to empower our community.”

Equipping for success: Omaha, Neb.

The Omaha, Neb., Kroc Center has experienced a jump in enrollment due in large part to the ability to purchase equipment through the grant. According to Kevin Boesiger, fine arts manager, the right equipment makes all the difference.

“The grant has been huge in getting things we needed, like choral risers and a grand piano,” he said. “We’ve been able to double our program offerings.”

Kevin came to the Kroc Center after serving 27 years as a worship leader in Beatrice, Neb. His experience and passion guide his vision for the Kroc to become a strong performing arts center. In the past year songwriting, guitar, theater production classes and a youth choir have been added. He has devised new opportunities for arts education, offering music instruction for homeschoolers and forming relationships with high schools and colleges to provide a venue for concerts and volunteering.

As part of the center’s outreach, quarterly concert performances from Christian artists have been a hit, and Kevin recently added an educational and skill-building component with worship leader workshops.

Finding their niche: Quincy, Ill.

With 16 years as a high school band director, Keith Wiemelt thought his course was set, but the Lord had other plans. Majors Andy and Cheryl Miller, part of a summer community band Keith led, could see he’d be perfect for the new education and fine arts specialist position at the Quincy, Ill., Kroc Center, made possible through the initiative, and encouraged him to apply. Feeling a God-sent nudge, Keith joined the team last June. “It’s been a joy,” he said.

It’s also been an invigorating challenge to identify the Army’s niche in providing what’s needed in this community of 40,000 that has a well-established fine arts scene. Through networking and listening to the center’s members, Keith has integrated fine arts into the afterschool program and has provided unique options such as book folding and theatrical movement for adults. Activities like painting have appealed to people from age 11 to 60.

A budding youth brass band of 10 students from six local schools has expanded the center’s influence. The youth love it, and some parents drive up to 50 miles so their children can participate. More than 100 people attended the band’s first performance.

Keith hopes to add private music lessons, handbells, theater and a variety of visual arts classes.

Multiplying possibilities: South Bend, Ind.

Since introducing new programs and classes last fall, the South Bend, Ind., Kroc Center has seen enrollment in fine arts surge to 170 youth! Much of the credit goes to Amanda (Mandy) Simons, fine arts and education manager, but she’s quick to credit the center’s leaders and instructors, outreach efforts, timing classes to start with the school year and word-of-mouth advertising by participants.

“The sense of joy, service, team work and excellence here at the Kroc Center takes what I’m doing to a different level,” said Mandy. With degrees in vocal performance and music education and a decade teaching music, Mandy was looking for a ministry opportunity when she joined the center.

Free afterschool fine arts classes have brought in about 90 kids from the community. They’re now involved in choir, theater, hand chimes, ukulele, art, hip-hop dance, general music and theory classes. Home schooling groups also are an integral part of the success. A December recital featured participants involved not only in performance but in creating props and backdrops.

This spring classes likely will be split into two for optimal learning size, and the center hopes to expand offerings to adults with choir, handbells, theater and art classes.








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