Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation names Rachel Brown Director of Education and plans to expand its successful Upper Darby Summer Stage and MusicMan Academy programs with year ‘round classes in music, performance arts and stagecraft. Plans for an arts education center are also in the works for next year, and will be preceded by a number of opportunities for pop-up classes hosted by local libraries and community centers this fall.
A longtime strings teacher and then Director of Schoener MusicMan Academy summer camps, Brown envisions Upper Darby as a destination for the arts. She explained, “I would want Upper Darby to be a place where people come, outside of Upper Darby, knowing that this is where they’re going to get incredible performances and incredible arts education.” She continued, “This is going to be a place where they can see the incredible culture of Upper Darby thrive and shine.”
Brown attended West Chester University for her undergraduate degree, and began teaching in the Upper Darby School District upon her graduation. Soon after, she returned to West Chester University to receive her master’s degree in Music Education and has continued as an Upper Darby School District music teacher ever since. Brown has been involved as a teacher at MusicMan Academy since its inception in 2012, and has been Director for eight years.
In her new role as UDAEF Education Director, Brown hopes to broaden perspectives of what’s possible through the arts, expand access to arts education within the community, and to enhance the community building aspects of UDAEF programs. “I’m excited to step into this role, seeing it as more of a blossoming and continuation of what we already do so well,” said Brown. “Our programs have deep roots in the community and people are drawn to the sense of belonging and connection they provide. One of our strengths is that we have children and families and teachers and local professionals who want to be there and want to keep coming back to serve each other as well.”
This summer, Upper Darby Summer Stage hosted rehearsals and performances of seven unique musicals over a period of six weeks, engaging over 600 participants and entertaining over 24,000 ticket buyers in the Upper Darby community and beyond. MusicMan Academy hosted a two-week band and strings camp followed by a week-long jazz camp and two Butterfly Buddy camps specifically for students with disabilities. Classes during the school year would expand on and reinforce performance skills introduced during these summer sessions.
Along with the founder of the Brad Schoener MusicMan Academy, Jen Schoener, Brown has been instrumental in encouraging kids to explore music in fun, creative and holistic ways that may look a little different than what they’re used to. Brown cited the fact that this summer’s MusicMan Camp included teaching professionals as varied as an accordion player, a juggler, a professional cellist and a drumline instructor. Although campers span five years from late elementary school to middle school, these experiences captivated all age groups. Brown explained, “Hearing the connections they’re already making or hearing the questions that naturally just come up is exciting because then the teachers get this opportunity to dive deeper into the content.” Brown said. “Each year, we get to see those moments with the kids where they’re making connections that might not be made outside of their practicing at home or outside the core foundations of a music classroom.”
Although Foundation programs have typically served the youth of the community, Brown envisions a future where all are welcome. She has a wealth of ideas for classes serving seniors, young families, and English language learners, among others. “We want to be able to build relationships with different ages, with different cultures around the world, and with people just in different walks of life, people that have different interests in different places,” said Brown. “Regardless of your socioeconomic status, regardless of your age, your other interests and your profession, we want you to know, ‘this is the place to be.’”
When asked why members of the community should invest in arts education, Brown was emphatic: “It feels so good to be a part of the energy in the room where people are making incredible music– and theatre as well!” She adds to that the benefits of trying something new and the general well-being it provides to people. “We’re learning that 20 or 30 minutes of art-making each day can lower your stress level, can provide relaxation and mindfulness that everyone is learning is so important.”
Brown is a cheerleader for live music, live theatre, and in-person participation in the creative process, not only as therapeutic but as a way to connect with others. Brown said, “During the pandemic, people were awakened to the fact that ‘I cannot thrive in isolation; I have to do things, I have to participate and I have to interact with other people.’ I think there is a desire for that connection and I think people are being more purposeful in their relationships.”
Brown sees the UDAEF pop-up classes and plans for an upcoming facility as an opportunity to bring great arts education, enhanced access, and this purposeful human connection to the entire area. She said, “I’m excited to say ‘yes’ to our community when they’re looking for a place to go, when they’re looking for a place to express themselves, when they’re looking for a place to learn and connect with their community.” She continued, “When people come to our doors, I want them to enjoy their experience, where they feel like they’ve learned something, they feel like they’ve grown as a person and they come out of the door relaxed, full of enjoyment and ready to come back and connect with themselves and their community again.”
Founded in 1998 to support the educational and arts programs of area students, the Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation has grown to offer a wealth of educational programming, service opportunities and artistic performance enjoyed throughout the Philadelphia metro area. One of the leading arts and education foundations in the state of Pennsylvania, the Foundation’s goal is to transform lives through inclusive arts and education experiences that empower young people and unite our community.
While continuing our commitment of support to area students, the Foundation now encompasses the programs of both Upper Darby Summer Stage and Schoener MusicMan Academy, bringing arts enrichment to students of all interests and abilities throughout the region. The Foundation additionally sponsors the high school-based UDAE Service Club and the Upper Darby Collaborative composed of local nonprofits, both intended to foster a stronger community of caring in our neighborhoods.