During our tenth anniversary year, we decided it was time for a much needed makeover. Over the holiday weeks when there wasn't much programming in the facility, Lippert Tile Company installed new carpeting in the front half of the building.
This guest post was written by Marc Isaacs, a professional actor and acting coach, as well as a parent of a Milwaukee Children's Choir student. Marc has led educational programs and seminars for students on a variety of acting-related themes. Marc has volunteered to write guest posts occasionally, sharing a parent's perspective on happenings at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.
As anyone who has moved to a new town knows, first come the obligations, followed by the opportunities. Where to live, shop for groceries, and send the kids to school are part of that first list but it's the opportunities yet to be discovered that lead to truly memorable experiences. Let me share with you how the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center has become one of those opportunities for our family shortly after arriving in the area from Texas.
In Houston, fine arts was among our priorities. Thanks to my brilliant ex-wife Bonnie, our daughter Aidan spent four years at a fine arts magnet school which focuses on helping each child "develop their individual talents in the arts and to understand the relationships between academics and the arts." Our girl excelled, participated in the school choir in fourth grade, and we were grateful. Then a job opportunity for Bonnie in Milwaukee came suddenly over the summer and she chose Shorewood as the place to call home.
The abrupt change of scenery meant scrambling to find new arts resources in Milwaukee, and we were fortunate to hear about Milwaukee Children's Choir from a PTO leader in the Shorewood school district. Bonnie arranged an audition for Aidan with the artistic director of the Milwaukee Children's Choir, and I took her to it. When my daughter and I met Marco Melendez, a gracious and joyful man, we were delighted to hear he's from Texas. We were even more delighted when Mr. Melendez offered Aiden a spot in the Girlschoir.
A few weeks have passed since then and a visit to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center has become our Tuesday ritual as my daughter rehearses under the direction of Sarah Zietlow. As a parent, I am impressed by MYAC's attention to creating a safe and secure environment for the kids. Bonnie and I weren't able to just take her to rehearsal without stopping at the front desk to get a sticker identifying us as parents. (Following a parents' meeting, we now have badges to wear during every visit.) I also enjoy knowing an open space for students and parents to sit, relax, work, and connect is always available when we're there.
Beyond the elementary school community--which we are still getting to know slowly--I have a strong sense the community we are now a part of at MYAC will be enriching and rewarding to all of us and lead us to many new opportunities, valuable connections, and heartwarming friendships in the coming months. The time spent there has already given us a glimpse of other arts opportunities we may explore in the future, whether as participants or as audience members. I'm eager to get acquainted with the work of First Stage and African American Children's Theatre, and I'm sure we'll make time to see more than a few shows in the upcoming year.
Finally, I welcome the families at MYAC to introduce themselves to us anytime. We love meeting new people, especially ones who can lend a helping hand as we adapt to life in Wisconsin. We're just beginning to explore the arts, culture, and entertainment opportunities here in Milwaukee, and would love to hear your recommendations.
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.
Are you a student, parent, or teacher at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center? Would you like to write a guest blog post?