Children's Arts program struggles to continue
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodayHIGHLANDS COUNTY For the past few years, thousands of people attended a Christmas season event, where they would walk through various scenes depicting events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
Published: January 2, 2013
Published: January 2, 2013
The event included music and child actors depicting people from that time.
But this year it didn't happen. And The Children's Academy of Theatre Inc., a nonprofit organization that hosted Christmas Stroll, has no other live theater-type events scheduled.
Krista Flores, executive director of the academy, said the loss of a major grant and a relatively low number of families who can afford the tuition resulted in a lack of funding for such productions.
After 14 years, the organization may have to close, Flores said.
"Maybe, at this point it's something the community doesn't care to support," Flores said. "Maybe, I need to move on."
That would be a shame, said Tracy Finney, whose children, Moriah, 12, and Daniel, 17, have attended the program for several years.
"There's not a lot of other such opportunities for children in this area," Finney said. She's especially concerned that if the program closes, the only alternative is for her children to attend programs in other counties.
Flores, who has been involved with the arts for years and started the academy in 1999, helps children learn both the performing and visual arts. Some former students moved on to perform professionally or act at community theaters, she said.
Among other things, the academy produced traveling productions at various community venues and formed a musical program where children sing to nursing home residents. It also features after-school programs.
What many people don't realize is the cost involved with theatrical productions, she said. Those expenses include transportation, rent and lighting. They also must have money to create costumes and scenery and to buy the rights to produce plays, she added.
It may cost $6,000 for one production, she said.
Various grants, tuition, ticket sales and advertising revenue from play guides sustained the organization over the years, she said.
But the recent loss of a major grant from Champion for Children Foundation of Highlands County had a major effect, she said. The foundation provided funding ranging from about $24,000 to $30,000 annually, which paid for production costs, as well as accepting students whose families couldn't afford to pay tuition, Flores added.
The grant was more than 60 percent of the academy's budget, she said.
"Without funding and children who can afford to pay tuition, we are limited in what we can do," Flores said.
Kevin Roberts, chief executive officer of the foundation, said the cost of a project to renovate the Circle Theatre is a major reason for the funding cut. He said the foundation continues to fund many organizations and programs that help children.
With funding limited -- even when the academy received money from the foundation -- Flores worked to keep expenses at a minimum, she said.
"I never took a salary," she said. Professional artists taught classes, she said, adding that "many times we had people working for pennies."
Flores said she hopes some artists will volunteer and that the Highlands County School District will continue to provide support.
The academy teaches the arts, but also skills that help children in their academic classes and during their daily lives, she said.
Moriah Finney, a homeschooled student, said her participation helped with memorization and self-confidence.
"You have to be confident in yourself to be an actress," she said.
Moriah, who performed since she was 6 years old, has acted in community theater productions in Highlands County and Winter Haven and at The Story of Jesus in Wauchula.
At least for the beginning of 2012, Moriah can continue attending academy programs. Currently, the academy hold programs at Avon Park Community Center, but is looking at starting an after-school session at Highlands University Preparatory School.
But the question is open whether programs will continue past the first semester in 2013. Anyone interested in helping the program can call Flores at (863) 212-0800 or email her at Krista.Flores@aol.com.
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