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Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

Cedarburg Performing Arts Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary

A decade of concerts and education

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Even in the best of economic times, arts groups face many challenges, including walking that fine line between offering innovative programming and maintaining ticket sales. There’s also the constant challenge of keeping audiences happy in the hopes of them coming back, time and again. The Cedarburg Performing Arts Center Inc. (CPAC) has been doing that—and more—for the past decade.

As it celebrates its 10th anniversary with the current season, CPAC has already accomplished a great deal in terms of bringing a diverse group of artists to its community, which not only serves surrounding areas in Grafton, Mequon and Milwaukee, but also extends into northern Illinois. The artists who have performed at CPAC over the past decade represent an eclectic mix of performers, ranging from Judy Collins, Arturo Sandoval, The Smothers Brothers and Janis Ian to Gaelic Storm, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Oscar-nominated actor Hal Holbrook and Milwaukee’s John McGivern.

“Our value is firmly established in the mix of [performances] we produce by ensuring to educate, enlighten and entertain,” says Patricia Thome, the group’s managing director. Thome, who’s been in her position for the past four years, became involved with CPAC when it was still just an idea.

Thome notes that students come first with the center. “We include students in everything we do,” she says.

Perhaps CPAC’s greatest contribution is its focus on student education and community outreach. The 580-seat venue is adjacent to Cedarburg High School and owned by the Cedarburg School District, although the nonprofit side runs the Visiting Artists Series.

Educational outreach includes having guest artists work with the students, be it through workshops or master classes or just attending a sound check. When Bruce Hornsby played at the CPAC, not only were high-school students invited, but also area piano students and their instructors, explains CPAC Board President Julie Larrivee.

Larrivee, a five-year veteran of the organization in her second year as board president, recalls the efforts Rockapella made to connect with students during the group’s appearance in the 2008-2009 season. The New York City-based vocal quintet is well known for its theme song and ongoing work with the PBS children’s series “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”—but it was with the older kids that they made a lasting impression.

“We had former Marquette University students doing lobby entertainment and the group made a real effort in going up to them and talking with them about how the students got interested and involved [in performing],” Larrivee recalls.

Students are involved with all aspects of the center, from working backstage to in front of the footlights. In some cases, that experience has led to professional work. Former Cedarburg High School student Vic Wagner, who worked as part of CPAC’s technical crew during his high-school years, recently toured with popular country singer Brad Paisley as part of the performer’s technical crew.

Along with artists such as the bluegrass group Cherryholmes and jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, Thome remembers a particular moment when conductor and jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis worked with students. “We had asked Jon if he would play with the student ensemble and he said, ‘You know, I don’t do that.’ But standing on the side hearing the ensemble, he said, ‘You know, I’m going to do that.’ And he went right up into the trumpet row and played with the kids.”

Faddis was so impressed with one of the student trumpeters that he had the senior open his show. 

“Afterward, in his dressing room, Jon had kids coming back there and [he] asked them what they played. He was really into them,” Thome says.

That sense of community involvement, from artists and local residents, has allowed CPAC to find funding for its annual operating budget. Thome says that CPAC has been able to maintain its revenues due in large part to its 25% subscriber base, in addition to single ticket sales and the ongoing generosity of local corporate sponsors.

Many artists have made repeat appearances over the years, and CPAC sees that trend continue in May 2010, when one of the artists from its first season returns as part of CPAC’s anniversary celebration: singer-songwriter and guitarist Livingston Taylor (a younger brother of James Taylor).

Seeing artists return adds to the sense of community and camaraderie that CPAC works to sustain.

“We want people to feel that they’ve been welcomed into our home,” Thome says.

Board President Larrivee adds, “I hope people coming for the first time will enjoy the performance, get a sense that Cedarburg is a community that values the arts and will want to come back.”

For more information on the Cedarburg Performing Arts Center and its 10th anniversary season, call (262) 376-6161 or visit www.cedarburgpac.com

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