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Education, exploration and inspiration

05/16/2017 10:44AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Students get to work closely with their teachers or instructors and receive individualized attention when needed.

By Steven Hoffman
Staff Writer

The Darlington Arts Center was established nearly four decades ago based on a unique vision of including four arts disciplines—music, dance, visual arts, and drama—in one facility with an emphasis on multi-disciplinary programming. Darlington was the first community arts center in Pennsylvania to offer the four arts under one roof, fulfilling the vision of founder Diana Sophocles Hemmenway, and becoming a place where education, exploration, and inspiration converge. Young people can step on the stage for the first time or explore a new kind of art, while adults can pick up a new hobby or pursue a long-held ambition.

We offer so many different programs,” said Rosa Doherty, who previously served as the manager of marketing for the Darlington Arts Center. “We have classes for children as young as two, and we have a 95-year-old who is in a senior fitness class.”

Today, there are more than 5,000 individuals who are served through the music, dance, art, and drama programs at the non-profit community arts center. Music is the most popular choice for students, followed by dance. Darlington also hosts monthly art exhibitions, recitals, and master classes, as well as professional gallery exhibitions and a variety of outreach programs.

In one year alone, 895 students took 1,756 classes, lessons, or workshops on-site, and another 4,246 people attended performances, events, and exhibits.

Families come primarily from the Garnet Valley, Glen Mills, Chadds Ford, and West Chester communities to participate in the Darlington Arts Center's offerings, but the organization's reputation has grown during its four decades, and people also come from Delaware and other neighboring communities.

Darlington is very inclusive in its offerings, and strives to serve the cultural needs of a diverse community. There are school and outreach programs that help people of all ages build their appreciation and understanding of the arts as they learn to express themselves creatively in music, art, dance, and drama.

Doherty said that Darlington's programs really have a positive impact on youngsters.

I see what a difference these classes make,” she said. “The children are so excited to be here. Parents say that they don’t get this excited about anything else.”

A prime reason for the Darlington Arts Center's success is the collection of teaching artists who share their knowledge and joy for the arts.

I think our teaching artists are our biggest asset,” Doherty said. She explained that the teaching artists provide personalized attention to the students, and are able to help each one develop in their area or areas of study.

Many students are able to enjoy more than one class or program at the arts center. There are approximately 700 member families.

When the Darlington Arts Center was first started, it was housed in an historic farmhouse along Old Baltimore Pike in Wawa, Pa. Hemmenway started the arts center with five music teachers and 35 students. Before long, the Darlington Arts Center added the three other arts to enhance the curriculum.

The innovation has never stopped in the ensuing years. Twenty years ago, the organization started a preschool arts program for three- to five-year-olds that proved to be very popular.

When the center's student enrollment topped 500 students around 1996, the board of directors decided to start looking at sites for a new home, eventually settling on a five-acre site in Concord Township that was noted by the Gilman Development Company. A new state-of-the-art facility was built on the site and opened its doors in 2002.

Managing the growth and changes of the Darlington Arts Center have been a board of directors and the executive directors who provide vision for the programs. Hemmenway led the Darlington Arts Center for 30 years, retiring in 2009. Next, Angela Scully served as executive director, a position that is now held by Susan Nicodemus Quinn.

According to Doherty, the building is frequently bustling with activity. In addition to the full schedule of classes and private instruction that takes place, Darlington also has a number of outreach programs that are offered to children with special needs or youngsters who are from economically disadvantaged homes. An arts integration program called Literacy through Songwriting helps youngsters build confidence and develop their creativity while also learning.

The Darlington Arts Center also facilitates the Chester Theater Arts Program, which brings music, dance, and drama training to children between the ages of 5 and 18. Students meet each Saturday during the school year for the program at the Chester Charter School for the Arts.

Darlington Arts Center offers Suzuki violin instruction to students in three elementary schools—the Stetser Elementary School and Chester Charter School of the Arts and the Chester County Family Academy. The instruments for the program are donated by the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation.

The organization is always looking to meet a new need in the community. For example, they more recently started offering yoga classes in response to requests.

The Darlington Arts Center also has an expansive summer camp program that is open for young learners of all ages and skill levels in music, art, dance and drama. Registration for Camp Creativity is now open, so families can plan their summer activities and explore several options, including half- and all-day camp experiences, as well as one-day art intensive summer camp experiences.

The Darlington Arts Center is located at 977 Shavertown Road in Garnet Valley, Pa. To learn more visit www.darlingtonarts.org, call 610-358-3632 to request a catalog of programs, or request more information at marketing@darlingtonarts.org.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor@chestercounty.com.

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