March 6, 2019

Imagination and the Arts

Tom Linfield

Imagine if the dozens of arts groups serving youth in Madison had a specialized, state of the art facility to call their own; a large building that could provide rehearsal and performance space, visual art gallery space, costume and set production shops, and multiple, flexible classrooms for teaching music, dance, voice, theater and art.

Then imagine a coalition of arts groups, working diligently over many years, exploring multiple spaces across the city, working with community leaders and funders, collaborating to pursue such a dream.

And finally, imagine a philanthropist providing leadership support, putting wind into the sails of this dream.

Imagine no more. The Madison Youth Arts Center (MYAC) will soon begin construction, located in the very heart of Madison and the very center of Dane County. This will be a 65,000 square foot, collaborative facility serving a wide variety of agencies and thousands of local youth, regardless of their income status. The Center will be a vibrant, collaborative, welcoming space where a diverse array of youth arts educators and organizations inspire the next generation of creative thinkers, empathetic leaders, and thoughtful citizens. A $35 million campaign is underway, with a lead gift of $20 million from philanthropic leader Pleasant Rowland.

Madison Community Foundation is honored to help facilitate this campaign, led by Children’s Theater of Madison and Madison Youth Choirs, and to hold endowments that will provide long term support for MYAC.

"I can't think of a gift I could give that would impact more than this, in the arts and for young people. I think there will be a whole generation - generations - to come that will feed... the arts in the community."

- Pleasant Rowland

Building Creativity, Confidence and Community
Evidence shows that for youth, the arts are a building block, going far beyond artistic achievement to promote brain development, social and emotional growth, better grades, better school attendance, and better civic engagement. This center builds on work by every other youth-oriented program in Madison by engaging our young people in peer learning, exploration, movement, enrichment, growth, invention and cooperation. Multiple national studies indicate youth arts’ life-changing results:

      • 100 Points Higher on their SAT - Students with four years of arts and music classes average almost 100 points better scores than students with a half-year or less.
      • 5x less likely to drop out of school - Low-income students who participate in the arts, both in after school, have a dropout rate of 4 percent - five times lower than their peers. 
      • 40% more likely to have a diverse group of friends - Participation in arts activities increases tolerance. Twelfth graders who participated in the arts are 40 percent more likely to have friends from different racial groups.
      • 50% more active communities - Participants most involved in cultural activities are 50 percent more likely to be involved in other (non-arts) community activities and are more than twice as likely to volunteer.
      • 75% reduction in income disparity - From 2000–2010, more than 75 percent of diverse, low-income, and highly disadvantaged neighborhoods saw reductions in income disparity that directly correlated to the formation of new arts organizations within their communities.
      • 4 out of 5 more likely to vote - Seventy-eight percent of young adults who had arts-rich experiences were more likely to vote or participate in a political campaign.
      • 4% drop in neighborhood crime - Participation in after-school arts programs reduces juvenile crime by 4.2 percent on average.
      • 105% increase in revenue – In communities nationwide, art and community development results in greater tax revenues.
      • $1 for the arts saves $9 on other costs (welfare, crime prevention, etc.).

Mission and Structure
Leading the MYAC initiative are its first two anchor tenants, Madison Youth Choirs and Children’s Theater of Madison, whose years of collaboration and planning have made the space possible. But the space will house and host many, many other groups. MYAC leaders have met with over 70 agencies to determine space, rehearsal and performance needs. Some will become regular tenants; others will just need a temporary rehearsal space. Some will use the scene and costume shops, while others may put on a one-time performance or provide their entire season at MYAC. Some grassroots organizations may just need an occasional perch and computer access.The Madison Youth Arts Center will build a home for youth to explore and engage in the arts:

        • MYAC will ensure affordable, equitable access for all through a fully funded facility which directly lowers rental costs for all users.
        • The coalition will create a MYAC scholarship fund for users. Every dollar provided widens the door to opportunity for all.
        • To ensure facility maintenance for many years to come, a dedicated Madison Youth Arts Center Endowment will be created at Madison Community Foundation.

MYAC is limited only by the variety of arts agencies thriving in Madison. And, as Madison has proven time and time again, what we can accomplish in our community is limited only by our imaginations.To learn more, visit