|The Center on Central is many things to many people…After you read this, it will be your favorite family spot!|
• A restored century-old Victorian home turned into an arts center.
• A place for people of all ages and abilities to create.
• A dream-turned-reality for its owners.
Katie Opher and her husband Ron, Chester County residents since 1999 and residents of the Delaware Valley since childhood, opened The Center on Central in July 2009.
“Katie had been frustrated by how difficult it was to find suitable space to bring music lessons and music therapy to those in need, which is where she spent the bulk of her career before we opened The Center on Central. Suburban office parks and strip malls just weren’t cutting it.
I then learned that her colleagues were expressing the same issues, and the obvious question was “what if?” What if we could locate a suitably-sized space in a home in a commercial district and make this vision come true – not only with music, but with a variety of creative arts?
And what if – instead of simply chauffeuring kids around, parents could take a class of interest to them at the same time their kids were in another class in the same building?”
It didn’t take long for Katie and Ron to identify West Central Avenue, in the Town Center District of Paoli, in Tredyffrin Township, as an ideal neighborhood for this business – parallel to Route 30, walking distance to the Paoli train station, and in a locality where they had put down roots and were raising a family.
But that was only a first step.
The largest home on the block – an old Victorian that was owner-occupied on the top floor and rented out on the bottom floor came on the market in early 2008. After a variety of twists and turns on the business side of things, including choosing a name that reflected what the business means to its clientele – but wasn’t a mouthful to say – The Center on Central was born.
“We opened with Summer Day Camp, featuring Young Rembrandts®, which we had already been bringing to local schools as an after-school enrichment program.
We have a pottery studio which has proven very popular, as well as a step-up program as kids age out of Young Rembrandts® – which we call Studio 4 the Young Artist – that local artist Joe Shawn runs.
Teens and tweens love Studio 4!…we now run separate sessions for each age grouping.
In the summer of 2010, we added CAMP 24, a Creative Arts and Social Skills summer day camp that meets upstairs, while the original camp flourishes downstairs. We have added an After School program – with transportation – that helps structure kids in those few hours between when they are out of school and before they get home. There is also Creative Arts therapy sessions – both individual and group. And music lessons are also popular.
We really do try to live up to our slogan that we are Your Home for Creative Arts, and welcome people of all ages and abilities.
We also host birthday parties on weekends, and have Parents Night Out/Kids Night In on the first and third Fridays of the month, where parents can drop off their kids for a couple of hours (6:30-9:00pm) and the kids eat some pizza, make a themed craft and then – they love this – watch a movie on the ceiling!”
At the same time, Katie freely admits that The Center on Central is partly a vision and partly an experiment in being responsive to the community’s needs.
“The movie thing – we used to show them on the wall. Then one child suggested we try it on the ceiling, and it caught on.
Fashion Design is another program we offered because we were asked to. Same thing with Pottery.
With Studio 4 – we wanted to offer something more advanced and less curriculum-driven once the kids mastered the step-by-step nature of Young Rembrandts® and built basic artistic skills for themselves. Don’t tell the kids this…but as they build the art skills, they also learn to organize their minds. Sneaky, huh?!?
Anyway, the Studio 4 concept suited Joe just fine, and in turn suits his students tremendously well. They took the ball and ran with it. The students and the instructors make our programs what they are – The Center on Central as a business is the vessel for that creativity.”
What’s the bigger picture at The Center on Central? Katie reflected, and gave us this to think about:
“We not only believe that art is important, we break down barriers and de-mystify visual art, pottery, music and other creative processes to position art as something that is truly created by people of all ages and abilities.
We believe that everyone can be an artist – and that everyone can be a better artist after receiving instruction than they can simply by “winging it.” We have a delivery mechanism that adheres to these core values, brings work opportunities to artists who might not otherwise be able to pursue art as a career and fosters our clients’ appreciation for the artistic process.
This also includes a population labeled as having “special needs” or having an “autism spectrum disorder.”
And is that bigger-picture mission being fulfilled?
“Definitely. We launched in a very tough economy, and we are growing. We are meeting our community’s needs – people are leaving here with a smile on their face. Actually, they are arriving here with a smile on their face and leaving with an even bigger smile!
They also smile when they see the “Arts Bug” – our yellow VW beetle decked out with The Center’s logo – but I’m sad to say I do sometimes see the punchbuggy game played when I pull up to a stop light. I guess that comes with the territory, but I’d rather not be promoting violence. So no punchbuggy yellow when I drive by, OK?!?”
The Center on Central was named “Best of Philly” by Philadelphia Magazine for Best Kids’ Classes – Suburbs in August 2012.
What are you waiting for? – Go check them out! They’ll be happy to give you a tour, and even happier to enroll you in a program.
Like Katie says, bring your smile with you and see if you leave with a bigger one!
The Center on Central
24 West Central Avenue
Paoli, PA 19301