A 2nd Act: Together We Can Make Something

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Posted By on May 7, 2020

Thoughtful, committed citizens changing the world

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

When she said them decades ago, anthropologistMargaret Mead could never have guessed how many applications those simple words would go on to have. And they fit perfectly into the history of the Phoenix Center for the Arts. Established in 1975, the Center is housed in the former First Southern Baptist Church on 3rd and Moreland Streets in downtown Phoenix. The 90-year-old building is a grand one in the Classical Revival style, complete with Greek columns and round arches. But what goes on inside is truly monumental.

The Center had been operated by the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department until things went south in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Due to budget cuts, the city began trimming programs, and in 2011 it was the Center’s turn. An announcement was released, reporting its pending closure, but the community spoke out. As the Center’s website explains, “Committees were formed, citizens organized, and the operation was turned over to the existing nonprofit, the Phoenix Center Arts Association, now known as Phoenix Center for the Arts, Inc.”

And in this second act, magic happened. Since it became a nonprofit, it has become a dynamic community center. Music, dance, performing arts and visual arts fill it. Thrown into the mix, classes buzz with excited electricity.

Lauren Henschen, the third employee hired after the Center’s rescue, became the CEO in July 2019. “Our most often repeated phrase — “together we can make something” — is inherent to everything we do, whether it’s making art or making friends. We’ve had groups who met in one class and then continue together in other classes. One group even went on meeting in its entirety despite one member being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.”

In 2011, the Center offered 100 classes. Now, the calendar has over 700, for both adults and children, filling the needs of citizens, schools and artists alike. Attendees belong to all ages and stages of artistic development, from the beginner to those who are part of the “maker movement,” individuals who use open studio time for ceramics, photo developing, glass making and more, creating art to sell. Many of the Center’s attendees live downtown, but being a Phoenix resident is not a requirement to use the facilities. In fact, because of the winter visitor population, they have tracked people from more than 500 different ZIP codes.

Tuition for classes and open studio time helps cover operating costs. That’s something unique for a nonprofit. However, the Center also offers financial aid to those who want to participate but can’t afford it. In addition, groups the Center calls “full-time residents” also offset costs.

“Our residents have been such an asset,” Henschen said. “When the Center faced shutdown, the Phoenix Children’s Chorus went to City Hall to sing in an effort to keep us open.” There are 13 different resident groups, ranging from the Phoenix Children’s Chorus to Radio Phoenix to Voices of the Desert, all using space on the campus.

Henschen continued, “Having a building full of resident organizations with different missions produces amazing things when they collaborate. One year, Phoenix Children’s Chorus sang choral music, to which breakdancers from Cyphers performed. It was amazing to see each artform enhance the other.”

At the Phoenix Center for the Arts, the possibilities are endless. There are summer campers — 500 of them — ranging in age from 5 to 12. “With Art in Mind” is a joint effort with Banner Hospital’s memory program, designed for both patients and caregivers. And they’re developing more classes in Spanish.

At a time like this one, Henschen said, it’s a question of learning how to think creatively. “In looking for new ways to reach audiences, online classes have been so successful that they will probably remain a part of our curriculum. It allows us to reach less-mobile members, and even deployed military personnel. We’ve already had some who took creative-writing classes while living on the other side of the world.

“And now, we’re providing online mask-making classes. Our participants create protective masks and then donate them to hospitals.”

Phoenix Center for the Arts is the beautiful result of the kind of thoughtful, committed citizens Margaret Mead spoke about. It’s the second act of a community treasure, growing in the heart of the city.

To learn more, go to phoenixcenterforthearts.org.

Judy Pearson

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.