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“Thrilled and Inspired”: We are memory makers

~ Guest Opinion

ADDRESS TO CITY COUNCIL

 September 20, 2017

By CYNTHIA WEIR, Chair, Board of Trustees

California Center for the Arts, Escondido

On the evening of February 2, I was mingling with patrons in the Concert Hall lobby before our show, when a lovely, charismatic woman caught my eye.

I noticed Felicia because she had about a half-dozen excited young ladies in tow, one of whom was clutching a violin.  I introduced myself and asked where they were from and what brought them to the show.

I learned that they were part of a non-profit in San Diego called Girls with Goals, which mentors girls in creating vision, and achieving success through setting goals.

Their leader confided in me that these girls had actually set a goal for that evening: to see the show, then find a way to meet the performers, Kev Marcus and Wil B, better known as the Classical Hip-Hop duo “Black Violin.”  And maybe, just maybe, get them to autograph the little girl’s violin!

Now, that was a pretty big goal!  Those young men had spent an exhausting day with us: press, a master class, and then an amazing, energetic performance, all while battling bad colds.  And there was no “meet and greet” in their contract!  Chances were slim.  But members of our staff worked their magic.

The kids went home late that night thrilled and inspired by the show and by the generosity of two tired and sick performers, who stayed to spend time with a few little girls with dreams, one of whom was still clutching her violin, now bearing Kev and Wil’s autographs.  That was an evening they, and I, will never forget.

The California Center for the Arts, Escondido is in the business of bringing people together to discover, create and celebrate visual and performing arts.  The Board of Trustees, our excellent, dedicated staff, and our many volunteers, are committed to nurturing not only artists of today and tomorrow, but also future supporters of the arts.  Our mission activities include bringing arts education, and opportunities for artistic expression, to surrounding schools and the community of Escondido and beyond.  In general, our programs serve youth in grades K-12, (many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds), giving them a chance to discover the arts for themselves, some for the very first time.  We are also continuing to develop programs for other ages, including seniors.

Here are some of the things that you and all supporters of the Center are accomplishing:  You are providing art instruction in area schools with “A Taste of the Arts,” hosting “Arts Discovery Field Trips” where young people participate in art, dance, drama and music at our museum or studios, and “Center Stage” productions, with live theater performances for students spanning subjects such as history, science, music, dance and literature.

Our Education Department partners with local school districts to offer “My Story”, designed to foster literacy through the arts, and “Visual Thinking Strategies” which uses art as a tool to teach critical thinking skills.

Through the generosity of a major donor, we provide classical music lessons.  The “Jean Will Strings Program” puts stringed instruments in the hands of young children who would probably otherwise never have such an opportunity.  Some of these kids will actually go on to study music throughout their school years, and a few may even discover a life-long love of music, leading to a career path in teaching or performing!  What a privilege we have, to be a part of a child’s artistic and intellectual development!

Our museum houses a space dedicated to showcasing the work of regional students in conjunction with each of our exhibitions. Come to one of our Museum openings, and you will meet local kids, with parents and grandparents in tow, eager to show off their creations. Imagine being 9 years old, and seeing your painting and your artist’s statement hanging in an actual Art Museum!  That’s something they’ll remember forever!  And these children aren’t just “making art,” they are mingling with adults, explaining their work and how they feel about it … in other words, creating, communicating, connecting, gaining confidence, and self-respect.

While many people still know us only as a Performing Arts venue for entertainment, our ticket sales and every wedding, Bar Mitzvah, or corporate event in our Conference Center actually helps support our community and educational activities.

You may be surprised to hear that we produce and present more free events than paid, including the American Roots music series, Jazz Jam Sessions and Musica en la Plaza, (Latin music and dancing), every Friday night — July through September.  On 2nd Saturdays, Escondido’s Arts and Culture days, we provide hands-on arts activities at no cost.  We produce Escondido’s Dia de los Muertos festival in November, our Winter Wonderland festival in December, the City’s Independence Day festival, First Wednesdays Performances, and much more — again, all free, and attracting thousands to our campus throughout the year.  Bringing people together through the arts!

For the past 23 years, dedicated groups of hard-working volunteers have governed our Center.  Why would these  leaders in their respective fields give countless hours of time, and dedicate their talent and treasure to this endeavor?  Why have thousands sponsored and supported it through donations and memberships?  Let me tell you why:

Think back to that very first time that you attended a live performance or visited an art museum.  Maybe it wasn’t even your cup of tea, but it opened the door to discovering something of history or culture that you’d never thought about before.

Perhaps, like me, you were on a grade school field trip.  Do you remember what you saw and heard?  That feeling of being in a special place, the anticipation as you settled into your seat, the surprise of the new sights and sounds … the orchestra warming up, the curtain rising.  Was it musical theater, or an opera …  the costumes, the actors singing and dancing?  Or maybe it was a rock concert in the 70’s, out with your friends … the lights, the crowd, the bass reverberating in your chest, the excitement!  You remember, don’t you?

Well, that’s what we do almost every day.  We are memory makers.  Over a quarter of a million visitors spend time on our beautiful campus each year.  Escondido’s young people grow up to value and appreciate their experiences here.  Our families and friends gather here to share good times at a festival, a wedding, a show, and all of them, all of us, are beneficiaries of the vision and legacy of our founders.  The California Center for the Arts, Escondido, enhances the quality of our lives. We are beyond fortunate to have it.

We believe strongly that the arts not only enhance our everyday lives, they actually help define a culture.  What we are doing today will shape our city’s legacy.  And in an increasingly divisive world, human beings can put aside their differences and come together over something beautiful, intriguing or up-lifting.

I can tell you that in a concert hall full of people, young and old, no matter what their background, listening to Garrison Keillor spin a yarn, or Chris Botti playing beautiful music and inspiring the next generation, or experiencing Shaping Sound’s fascinating movement, or a classical pianist playing the breath-taking notes that have enthralled audiences throughout the centuries, politics, race, our differences melt away, and for a few wonderful hours, in the City of Escondido, at our lovely Center for the Arts, we are united in shared experience, optimism, inspiration and harmony, making memories.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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