Founded in 1998 to support the educational and arts programs of area students, the Upper Darby Arts & Education Foundation has expanded its original mission. Originally most active in administering grants for local school programs, the Foundation now offers a wealth of educational arts programming and artistic performance enjoyed throughout the Philadelphia metro area.
Since assuming management of both Upper Darby Summer Stage and Schoener MusicMan Academy, two programs with deep roots in the community, the Foundation’s focus has naturally shifted to supporting participation in the performing arts and its positive outcomes for our youth. In a collaborative process with the Board of Directors, Executive Director Harry Dietzler and the Foundation leadership team arrived at a new focus: one of transformative growth and wellbeing through engagement with the arts. What Dietzler refers to as “this bigger goal” won a consensus among the group, backed up by experience, parent reporting and new scientific evidence that the performing arts are a vital component of people’s intellectual and socioemotional development.
When asked if the word “transform” might be an overstatement in terms of goals, Dietzler was adamant in his understanding of the Foundation programs’ effects. “I’ve had mothers say, ‘You saved my boy’s life; he would have gone in a totally different direction,’” said Dietzler. He went on to say that his years of experience, staff reporting, and hundreds of parent statements all support the transformative power of connection and engagement with the arts found in Summer Stage and MusicMan Academy experiences. “Just in terms of self-confidence, teamwork abilities, and career direction– we see it all the time: the arts transform lives and we’re a part of that,” said Dietzler.
With the new science-based understanding that our brains thrive on participation in the arts, the Foundation finds this mission more compelling than ever. While our cultural landscape features increased depression, anxiety and isolation in our youth, the Foundation’s local mentor-based programs encourage connection, introduce many forms of creative expression, and foster confidence based on real arts participation and achievement. Dietzler summed it up like this: “We’re not just putting on a show or hosting a concert; we’re engaging kids in a life-long journey of arts participation and appreciation, one that will pay dividends for them over time.”