Tell us about yourself.
My name is Janet Starke and I am the Executive Director for Richmond Performing Arts Alliance (formerly Richmond CenterStage Foundation). Our mission is to provide diverse local and world-class performing arts, transformative arts education experiences for all and inspirational venues—all to strengthen the cultural and economic vitality of the Greater Richmond region.
What is the focus of your work, the need you are addressing?
We SUPPORT today’s artists by cultivating diverse arts experiences, NURTURE tomorrow’s artists through programming and experiences that deepen their connection to the arts, and provide spaces for the arts to THRIVE by supporting Richmond’s premier historical venues.
ABOVE: A video showcasing the mission of RPAA and some of its many programs and initiatives.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Connecting with people. Our venues—Dominion Arts Center and Altria Theater—serve as home to a dozen resident companies, including Richmond Symphony, Virginia Opera, Richmond Ballet, Elegba Folklore Society, Latin Ballet of Virginia and Quill Theatre. We’re a partner to the Broadway in Richmond series.
Whether advocating for the productions and programming they do, connecting with others to collaborate on our own artistic and education programming, or working with teachers from our school partners, making connections and working together towards meaningful impact is the most rewarding thing we do.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
Awareness and understanding of what we do. Many people confuse our organization with the resident companies who call our venues home; others simply don’t know there is a non-profit organization dedicated to fundraising for the operations of the venues themselves and community outreach.
What would someone be surprised to know about your organization?
We have a comprehensive education program—our BrightLights Education Initiatives—which take place both at Dominion Arts Center and out in the schools. Our programs span from an arts-integrated early childhood literacy program (ELLA) to our Wells Fargo OnStage Family Series, to media arts instruction for high schoolers as a pathway to a career.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
This year, we are expanding ELLA (Early Literacy Learning through the Arts) to the MLK Pre-K Center, which is exciting—to work with an entire school of teachers to introduce strategies for using the arts to teach across the curriculum. Through artist residencies in the classroom, Teaching Artists are providing embedded professional development by demonstrating concrete ways to use music, movement and theatre to teach early literacy skills. There’s also a parental involvement component. Through our Digital Arts Lab, we are teaching video production to high schoolers as a pathway to college and career. Since our opening in 2009, more than 60 students have gone through the program and many have gone on to leading film studies programs across the country and are working in the field.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Our partnerships with area schools—particularly RPS—are exciting, as we continue to find ways to apply the arts to meaningful outcomes that positively transform our schools. Also, being a part of groups like Chamber RVA and others who rightfully see the arts as part of a broader community solution; seeing the potential impact we can have in helping to improve community challenges, is exciting to explore together.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
We really appreciate the networking, resources and support towards a larger community outcome. At times, we’ve convened with other organization education directors to discuss strategy towards program evaluation. We’ve had wonderful opportunities to share our work with donor-advised funds. Very practically, we’ve used ConnectVA to list jobs and identify resources for staff development and equipment. TCF has been a wonderful thought partner and supporter of the work we strive to do.
Anything else you would like to share?
We feel strongly that the work we have done in the community, at Dominion Arts Center and Altria Theater, has created positive outcomes for a broad range of the community. Children and teachers have gained new ways to look at things through opportunities for learning in and through the arts. Together, they have gained new understandings that will carry them through learning and life. Parents are finding concrete ways to engage with their child to strengthen their child’s learning and develop positive relationships with their child’s teacher. Downtown revitalization has been realized through an increasingly thriving Grace Street corridor. Altria Theater is the largest theater between New York and Atlanta, and makes Richmond a destination for commercial tours. Altogether, we are a wiling and grateful partner in the cultivation of thriving arts community, and we continue to aim to find ways that the arts can not only entertain and inspire, but can also provide transformational change for our schools and communities.