On Friday, October 3, 2023, members of the Board of Trustees, donors, students, Visual and Performing Arts Department faculty, and community members gathered for the groundbreaking for the Center for the Living Arts (CLA). Anne Roche, Clerk of the Board of Trustees, opened the ceremony and read the land acknowledgement, and Head of School Chris Benbow, Director of Pre-K- 12 Visual and Performing Art Alex Ates, and ninth grader Jamila Burgos shared in the ceremony before ground was broken.
The groundbreaking marks the beginning of the third phase of the CLA renovation and expansion. During Phase I, renovations included creating a dedicated sculpture studio, a natural-light ceramics studio, and a reconfigured digital arts lab. The rehearsal spaces for choral and instrumental music were revitalized, state-of-the-art soundproof music practice rooms were created, and the green room and dressing rooms for theater productions were updated.
Phase II of this project focused on the Barton-Test Theater which received wall finishings to sharpen acoustics, a new theatrical sound systems and lighting, HVAC installation, new catwalks, expanded storage and safety upgrades, and aesthetic renovations to the scene shop and costume storage areas.
Head of School Chris Benbow shared with the gathering, “The vision for this final phase of the renewal speaks to our collective belief in the importance of the arts at Westtown. It will tie the entire Center together by means of an exciting addition, replacing unused space with a stunning gallery, creating a formal visual arts wing, adding flex performance space, and common gathering areas. Alongside critical modifications for accessibility and an aesthetic upgrade of the building’s façade, we will take advantage of one of the most beautiful vistas on the Westtown campus with additional outdoor education space, tying the community together around the arts.”
Alex Ates, Director of Pre-K-12 Visual and Performing Arts, said, “To mark this occasion, I’d like to make three brief points as to why I love the name ‘The Center for the Living Arts.’ First, the word ‘center.’ Not only is this facility the center of operations for our artistic activity, it is also in the center of Westtown’s campus. When I first visited Westtown, it moved me that the CLA was located right next to the Meeting House, as both facilities feel like soul siblings, both are containers designed to induce divine expression and the equally divine reception of expression. Another way to think about the word ‘center’ is that the process of centering before Meeting for Worship is a similar process to centering before creating art, or receiving art. When we center ourselves, we ground ourselves in place. We also connect with others, we meet each other where we stand. Second, I love the term ‘living arts.’ We all agree that this building will be state of the art and will be a testament to Westtown’s commitment to creative expression. However, it’s a building. What I’m most excited about are the experiences of living that this building will contain, elucidate, and catapult. The arts are a way of expressing our aliveness. At a school like Westtown, where we see folks grow through childhood, we see a lot of living. This building will center the art and the heart of all that living. Finally, I’ll note that our department has been intentional in preparing for this moment to ensure that everyday we center living arts…As a department, we have cleared and aligned our thinking to ensure that we’ll engage these new facilities with mission-driven zest.”
Jamila Burgos ’27, winner of the North Penn High School Black History Month Oratorical Contest and winner of the Winner of the Valley Forge Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Patriots Challenge, read a poem she wrote to celebrate the event entitled, The beauty of the world fit into one moment. You can read her poem here.
The special (and wonderful!) shovels used for the groundbreaking were created under the leadership and guidance of Middle School Art Teacher Cindy Hodgson, now in her twenty-first year at Westtown. Her Eighth Grade Visual Arts classes decorated the shovels to represent the various artistic disciplines taught at Westtown. The designs and artwork used on the shovels were inspired by visiting artist Todd Drake who worked with Middle School students during his residency last year to create linocut prints based on the Quaker SPICES: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship.
At the conclusion of the groundbreaking—and just as the rain clouds opened—the gathering enjoyed a lovely reception in the Science Center. You can see more photos from the event here.
On a final note, we share our thanks to this community! Every phase of this exciting project was made possible through a tremendous outpouring of generosity from alums, parents, parents of alums, and friends of Westtown.
Stay tuned to eCollections and other publications for updates on the progress of the CLA!