Back to the Future
Established in 1980, Hinsdale Center for the Arts’ (HCA) overarching mission has always been to educate, encourage, and facilitate participation in the arts. They’ve consistently offered classes and workshops to children and adults in dance, drawing, painting, sculpture, music, theatre, and more from their historic studio located on the pastoral grounds of the Katherine Legge Memorial Park in Hinsdale.
But, as often happens, a vision can become blurred with time. While HCA continued to chug along over the years, a succession of changes in management and some forays in new directions brought the board and the life trustees to a point where they needed to take a step back and reassess. Barbara Yokum joined HCA as interim Executive Director last year to help the organization remember why it started 30 years ago, how it has evolved, and, most importantly, what it wants to be in the future. With more than 20 years experience in managing artists and arts organizations, Barb was the ideal candidate to step in and help HCA navigate its future.
For one thing, Barb’s passion and enthusiasm for the arts is infectious. “Art develops creative thinkers and creative minds, and opens people’s minds,” she says. And, she possesses a sense of conviction and “can-do” attitude that leaves little room for uncertainty. “I feel strongly about what art can do for a community, and I like to think big,” says Barb. “I believe that HCA could be the premier art center in the western suburbs with a performance venue and a state-of-the-art gallery facility that can bring varying levels of entertainment to community.”
Her education and experience set the stage for where she is today. Barb went to college for musical theatre, where she ultimately majored in marketing and minored in dance. After working in advertising with Anheuser-Busch for some time, she started her own dance school, The School of Performing Arts, 20 years ago in Naperville. Today, the successful school provides dance, music, and theatre to 1,700 kids of all ages annually.
Life threw Barb a curveball in 2004 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After winning her battle with cancer, she approached life with a clearer vision for her own professional aspirations. “Seven years ago, I decided I really love managing and organizing artists and arts organizations. I recognized how different the two worlds of art and business are and that people don’t necessarily realize how important the business side is. But I like the business side and the unique personalities of people in the arts world—and I understand artists and the business of art and that they need to operate the same way.”
Barb formed the Performing Arts Consultants Group, and, among her projects since then, she spent nine months helping Joffrey Ballet establish their new academy on State and Randolph in Chicago. So when HCA asked Barb to help out, she was eager to take on the challenge.
With this “win-win” attitude, Barb assessed HCA and started by reorganizing and developing the staff and the website, and by tapping into the wisdom of life trustees and board members to re-envision where they saw HCA’s future.
“I wanted to re-engage life trustees—the founding members of HCA and past board members,” says Barb. When she invited them for a visioning session, “About a dozen people showed up,” she says. “It was like a homecoming. They all sat around the table and reminisced, sharing their favorite stories about HCA. And, it was illuminating that our vision was the same—to have a premier arts center in the western suburbs—ultimately with a performance venue, and state-of-the-art gallery and exhibition space. The trustees felt very passionate about what they started.”
With this vision in hand, Barb, the board, and the staff have focused on two avenues: education and outreach. “Successful arts centers have a strong education component,” says Barb.
They’ve looked at all of the classes and programming HCA offers with an eye toward building a cohesive curriculum-based program that will create a natural succession to carry students from a young age through to college. With many arts programs being cut from school budgets, Barb met with area school principals to see how HCA can augment the arts education they currently offer. They’ve initiated a three-part series to help students prepare for their spring musical at Gower Middle School, which will include sending in a choreographer and voice and acting coaches. At Pleasantdale Elementary School, they are helping students with a mosaic project.
In terms of outreach, says Barb, “We are focusing on who those people are in our community that need art to enrich their lives in some way, including underserved populations such as children on the autism spectrum.” This summer, HCA will offer a filmmaking camp to high school students called Project Inclusion run by Joey Travolta, older brother of John. Students will produce and write their own film, which will be a springboard for continued programming throughout the year for this population.
“I feel so strongly about how much performing arts can boost self-esteem and confidence,” explains Barb. “The students take such a risk, and when they succeed, it is an automatic deposit into their self-esteem.”
HCA also recently initiated its Teen Advisory Board, where teens meet to brainstorm and decide what arts classes and programming they want. And, HCA continues to do the things that it has always done well, such as participating in the 25th annual high school invitational, hosting its annual “Objects of Desire” show, supporting other arts initiatives with its Community Arts Access Grants Program, hosting gallery exhibitions such as the current winter faculty exhibit, and hosting community social events like its recent wine dinner at Il Poggiolo Ristorante.
On April 14, HCA will host its annual benefit, this year with the timeless theme “A Night in Casablanca.”
“To me, art brings hope, lifts spirits, opens eyes, softens hearts, and raises the world up,” says Barb. “I know that ‘together,’ people of passion about the arts can do just that.”
If you’ve forgotten about all that HCA has to offer, check out their website, become a member, make a donation, stop by the gallery, or enroll in a class—you might just discover the artist within.
For more information on Hinsdale Center for the Arts and their upcoming “A Night in Casablanca” benefit, visit hinsdalearts.org
—Words by Elaine Doremus Slayton