Music, Visual, Performing Arts Well-Represented in Chester County

By Kay West on April 28, 2011 at 11:13 am EST


From the musical comedy of Gilbert & Sullivan to the brooding prose of author Frank McCort and the haunting paintings of the Wyeth family‚ West Chester and Chester County are blessed with a bounty of arts in a wide range of mediums.

And with recently approved plans and funding for a new home for the School of Music and a performing arts center at West Chester University of Pennsylvania‚ that cultural cache will grow considerably richer in the future.

West Chester University already serves as home or host to many of the performances that originate or tour through Chester County‚ says Mary Anderson‚ director of public relations and marketing for the university.

“University President Madeleine Wing Adler is very devoted to the arts‚” Anderson explains. “One of her goals is that West Chester University become the cultural center for the county.”

Adler and WCU advanced toward that goal in 2000‚ with the renovation of the Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall in the Philips Memorial Building‚ a campus administrative building. The 1‚400-seat facility is where students‚ faculty and the public attend symphony‚ ballet‚ dance‚ opera and children’s series performances by local and national artists. Critically acclaimed writers such as Maya Angelou and Frank McCort have read to standing-room-only audiences here‚ but more intimate gatherings also find their perfect ambiance in smaller performance spaces throughout the same building.

An award-winning theater department emanates from the E.O. Bull Center‚ and the schools of music and theater unite annually to present a big musical on the Asplundh stage.

In 2003‚ ground will be broken on a $24 million music building with a 400-seat performance space that will replace the Swope Building‚ now home to the School of Music.

Since 1987‚ music‚ theater‚ the university and the community have come together to present two annual Gilbert & Sullivan productions. Conceived by former university president Dr. Kenneth Perrin to generate positive interaction between the school and the county‚ the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County debuted with H.M.S. Pinafore in November of that year. Since then‚ the society has presented a full-length production each fall or winter in Asplundh Hall. Every December since 1989‚ as part of the community’s Old-Fashioned Christmas celebration‚ the society also has performed Trial by Jury‚ which is sung in its entirety‚ in the historic colonial Chester County Courthouse.

Members of the society – a true “town-gown” organization – are culled from WCU faculty and the student body‚ as well as community residents. The members take responsibility for every aspect of the productions‚ both behind the scenes and center stage.

“Gilbert & Sullivan operas are just a lot of fun‚” says society president George Bourrie. “Fun to sing‚ and fun for the audience.”

From grandfather N.C. Wyeth‚ to his son Andrew‚ to his son Jamie‚ the Wyeth name has helped define the visual arts in the Brandywine Valley since the early 1900s. In 1931‚ N.C. Wyeth was one of the driving forces behind the organization of the Chester County Arts Association. Peripatetic in its first two decades‚ the CCAA received a land donation in 1953 and constructed its permanent home there‚ with expansions taking place as needed. The two-story building currently houses administrative offices for its staff of nine‚ five studios for classes taught by a faculty of 50 artists and instructors‚ and two galleries‚ named for their patrons: the Allinson and the Houston.

A rotation of shows is presented from September through May‚ with larger group shows typically exhibited in the Allinson‚ and solo shows in the Houston. The season always ends with an exhibition of works from area high school students. Classes are offered throughout the year‚ with students age 3 to 99‚ proving one is never too young or too old to uncover the artist within.

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