To kick off our tenth anniversary year, we hosted a special lunch for First Stage, MYSO, and Milwaukee Youth Arts Center staff, our board of directors, as well as past staff members.
This lunch served as a reunion of sorts, bringing together the people who were involved with the planning and founding of MYAC. As I handed out nametags to incoming attendees, I heard multiple squeals of excitement as staff members old and new greeted each other in the hallway.
Our hearty lunch was prepared by none other than our own General Manager, Brad Bingheim. In addition to managing the entire building and its program scheduling, he also makes a delicious pulled pork sandwich.
After the 75 of us gathered and enjoyed our meal, a few special speakers addressed the crowd.
First up was Board President, Adam Wiensch, who thanked everyone for their efforts to create MYAC, but also for their efforts to maintain it and fulfill its mission of reaching youth through the arts.
Next was Rob Goodman, Founder of First Stage, and someone who was instrumental in founding MYAC. Rob was given five minutes to speak, and if you know Rob, you know that he could easily fill much more than five minutes. Rob shared some stories of what First Stage and MYSO looked like before MYAC.
He talked about offices that were like “rabbit dens” because they were so full of files and instruments, and offices in the basement of the Marcus Center, a place which he joked wasn’t fit for human habitation. Rob talked of 300 students on a waiting list for First Stage programs, and MYSO students overflowing into the hallways during rehearsals.
After the allotted five minutes, Rob’s cellphone alarm went off, which he proceeded to ignore. He shared a few more stories with the soft chiming of his alarm in the background.
Fran Richman, former Executive Director of MYSO, then took stage, where she guided us through MYAC’s history, from the original planning all the way through the grand opening. She remembered visiting about 45 alternative building sites that were “horribly inappropriate,” and then the “collective gasp” when the team stepped into the former Schlitz warehouse that is now MYAC.
Next up, Betsy Corry, Managing Director of First Stage, spoke of her experience working and planning for MYAC before she left First Stage to work at COA Youth & Family Services. And then her return, when she came back to First Stage after the move to MYAC.
Betsy remembered, “I felt like I had finally come home.” She spoke of the moving experience of being in the building, seeing it filled with kids, and seeing MYAC in action after dreaming and working towards it for so long. At that moment, she realized that “We really did it.”
Linda Edelstein, Executive Director of MYSO, shared her gratitude and thanks to all of the staff who made MYAC a reality, as she sees how much staff and, more importantly, students, benefit from their hard work.
After our planned speakers, the crowd urged Jeff Frank, Artistic Director of First Stage, and Carter Simmons, Artistic Director of MYSO to the stage to share their thoughts. Jeff and Carter spoke to their artistic collaboration, and the joy of sharing space and working with each other and their respective organization.
Jeff, Carter, and the other speakers closed by thanking Brad, as the dedicated staff member who ensures this all works on a day to day basis. After Carter and Jeff finished, many staff members lingered in the hall, visiting with others and taking group pictures.
If the day wasn't already joyous enough, while we were putting away the leftover food, we got news that a fellow MYAC staff member, Matt Whitmore, had just welcomed a new baby girl with his wife.
It really was a special day for MYAC’s staff family, old and new.