“Front & Center” At ARTS/West

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Since its beginnings as a west side music club for children, "Front & Center" has become an important arts education program, not only for ARTS/West, but for the Athens community.

Every second Saturday of the month, "Front & Center" introduces school-age children to guest speakers who share their experiences in music, dance, theater or poetry. The free program also allows children the opportunity to perform at an open stage in front of their peers.

Local piano teacher Patricia Lachman started the program at the Central Avenue Methodist Church, with her piano students making up the majority of attendees. Gradually, it opened up to other children from around the area, ultimately finding a new home at ARTS/West.

According to ARTS/West Program Specialist Emily Prince, "Front & Center" is a cornerstone program for the west side facility.

"It's one of our very favorite events," she said. "When the ARTS/West space became available, it was one of the first programs to move in."

Local musicians Hilarie and Mark Burhans were "Front & Center's" first guest speakers in 1996. Since then, over 100 artists have donated their time and talents, including pianist Gene Jennings, songwriter Laura Nadeau and poet Wendy McVicker, as well as dancers from Factory Street Studio and bands such as Southeast Engine and The Local Girls.

Throughout it all, one thing has remained constant: The children's enthusiasm.

"When our guests are playing instruments or dancing, the kids have that hungry look," said Lachman. "Like, 'what's going to happen now?'"

"Front & Center" receives support from the Ohio Arts Council through ARTS/West's sustainability grant. It also receives a portion of the proceeds from the Athens Community Music Festival, held each August. With routine cuts in the area schools, particularly in the arts, Lachman feels that programs like "Front & Center" are now more important than ever.

"Not only does it engage the students in the arts, it has the potential to be a real community builder," she said. "ARTS/West should be highly commended for their work, especially Emily Prince and Ashley Johnson."

For Prince, "Front & Center" is a monthly reaffirmation of ARTS/West's mission.

"It's just one of those things that remind us why we do this," she said.

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