PHOENIX, ARIZ.: “There was some confusion about what this area was called—some were calling it midtown, others downtown,” says Vincent VanVleet, managing director of Phoenix Theatre and a prime mover behind the official designation of Phoenix’s new Central Arts District. “There was a need to tell the public: This is where we reside.” In this case “we” includes not just VanVleet’s theatre but Playhouse on the Park, Phoenix Center for the Arts, Arizona Opera and Arizona School for the Arts, as well as the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum, among other organizations. To counteract the city’s car-driven sprawl, the city of Phoenix has widened sidewalks in several central districts, connected them with light rail service and begun an annual outdoor festival every December. “There’s kind of a renaissance happening in Phoenix,” VanVleet says, pointing to a popular First Fridays walking tour of nearby Roosevelt Row’s art spaces and the arts district along Grand Ave.
The name for the Central Arts District wasn’t hard to come up with: Its north-south axis is Central Avenue. The new alliance has registered the domain name www.CentralArtsDistrict.com, which should be up by the fall, if not by press time.
BETHESDA, MD.: The centerpiece of last October’s fundraising gala for Imagination Stage was especially memorable: A playful video showed Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) superintendent Joshua Starr driving a bus full of school kids to the theatre. And then Starr—still in bus driver’s cap—appeared live on the stage with a gaggle of third graders. That night alone, this Starr-y stunt managed to raise $120,000 for Imagination Stage’s partnership with the MCPS, “Learning Through Theatre,” which in May brought more than 3,000 students from Title I schools to see the theatre’s hip-hop-inflected Cinderella: The Remix.
“Some kids have already been coming from those schools in recent years,” says Bonnie Fogel, Imagination Stage’s founder and executive director. “But we found that even the modest cost of a ticket and bus transportation precluded a lot of children from attending.” The new funds, which totaled $150,000, subsidize attendance by students from 27 schools, as well a study guide integrated with MCPS’s science and math curriculum and some post-show workshops.
Jenn B. Haselswerdt, Imagination Stage’s education program director—who appears as a “wacky and wise administrator Miss Cora” on a behind-the-scenes DVD for schools that links the theatre’s backstage jobs to technology, math and science—says that the program is funded for at least two more years. Next year’s offering will be a new version of Sinbad. Go to www.imaginationstage.org.
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