Pine Nuts: Power of the arts

McAvoy Layne
Pine Nuts
McAvoy Layne

I visited a performance center in Richmond, California last week and came away mightily impressed. How’s this for a mission statement …

“East Bay Center for the Performing Arts engages youth and young adults in imagining and creating new worlds for themselves and new visions for their communities through the inspiration and discipline of rigorous training in world performance traditions.”

Wow! This is a mission statement for UNICEF, the United Nations, the European Union, and yes, the United States of America. This is exactly the mission the world needs, and is missing right now, to heal wounds that divide us as we approach 2020.

I had the pleasure of dining with the Performing Arts social worker, Corinna, who facilitates getting kids off the streets of Richmond and into programs that provide new ways of seeing the world, and new ways of contributing to that world. She is a young Mother Teresa in a hardscrabble town. Were I not older than Methuselah I would have asked to join her staff, or at least sign up for an African drumming class.

The Center makes a strong statement as to why arts matter in public education …

“The arts rewire the brain to make strong and more plentiful neurological connections.” Heaven knows we could all use more neurological connections, one or two would be a windfall for me.

And they don’t just teach music, dance and art, they cultivate creative and critical thinking, collaboration and communication. As many students begin this growth odyssey in seventh or eighth grade, much attention is paid to nurturing an ability to act in a world beyond the center. By participating in production projects, students link with the broader community. This remarkable center has been reaching out and touching thousands of young people across Richmond for 51 years, in-school, after-school and in-house on 11th Street.

They work closely with classroom teachers and principals to align workshops designed to meet the needs of the students, so consequently, focus falls on cultivating cultural activities outside the center.

For college-bound students they help research and identify schools, grants, scholarships and financial aid opportunities. This is amazing stuff. Every community should have such a Center for the Performing Arts, for if every community were to have one, well, we would no longer live in fear of nuclear wars, cyber wars, or culture wars. Good- fellowship is their game, and they play it very, very well.

As I was about to leave the center, filled to the gills with optimism, I turned to the development manager and extended my hand …

“You are building something here much larger and grander and more important than a performance center. You are building a model for the United Nations, that’s what I think.”

He smiled a humble smile, extended his hand, and said, “Thanks, Dad.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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