A crowd gathers at Allens Lane Art Center for a summer show.

A crowd gathers at Allens Lane Art Center for a summer show.

by Sam Loth, Fund Drive Committee Member

The Allens Lane Art Center was born in 1953 when the large mansion on the corner of McCallum Street and Allens Lane was razed, leaving only the rear carriage house standing on seven acres of Fairmount Park land. Today’s Art Center, in the former carriage house and surrounding park, hosts thousands of visitors annually who access the facility for theater productions, art and dance classes, art exhibitions and a summer art camp for kids, while the surrounding parkland boasts five tennis courts, a basketball court, a softball field and a full-sized children’s playground.

Executive Director Craig Stover explains that Allens Lane Art Center is almost like having four different art centers in one. First, there is a complete theater program that is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Each year Allens Lane Art Center announces a call for new plays from area directors, which draws an average of 50 proposals. Five plays are chosen with each play mounting eight performances. Craig states that so far, in the 60 years since they have been doing this, no play has ever been repeated.

The second large program includes a wide variety of art and dance classes for all ages and disciplines, which keeps the Center busy daily, year round.

Third, the Center hosts an annual Summer Art Camp that fills up fast. In 2013 the Art Camp accommodated 127 children who were treated to a combined program of arts and athletics including seven field trips to area attractions, including the Academy of Natural Sciences and an outdoor sports/amusement center.

Fourth, the Art Center operates the Carolyn and Howard Alber Gallery, a professional gallery exhibition space currently offering an exhibition featuring works from its innovative program “Vision through Art,” a hands-on sculpture class for blind and visually impaired artists. The exhibition celebrates the 25th anniversary of this program through Dec. 20. Many of the pieces are available for purchase.

Craig and his staff of three manage to run the multi-faceted Allens Lane Art Center on a modest budget of about $320,000 per year. Funding comes from numerous streams: program fees, individual donations, corporate sponsorships and a number of grants, including our Chestnut Hill Community Fund grant. Because the Art Center is located on Fairmount Park land, it has the benefit of being overseen by Lucy Strackouse, executive director of the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust who also serves as the Allens Lane Art Center’s board president. Craig emphasizes that the Art Center is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit and does not receive direct funding from Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department.

While financial support for the Allens Lane Art Center is diversified, it is by no means easy to come by. In 2007, one year after Craig took the reins of the organization, the center had just completed a successful capital campaign that resulted in $1.25 million in facility improvements. I remember attending Allens Lane Art Center plays back in the 1970s when ascending the stairs to the theater section was an adventure unto itself. Today the facility is modern, clean and up to code.

The Allens Lane Art Center (ALAC) promotes its values as follows: Allens Lane Art Center offers opportunities for people to explore their creative potential. These programs and activities are important because artistic experience and expression enhance the quality of life. Allens Lane Art Center strives to make its programs available to those who might otherwise be unable to participate. In carrying out its mission, Allens Lane Art Center is committed to acceptance of social diversity, promotion of a collaborative environment, personal empowerment, freedom of expression and openness to new ideas. Contact the center at 215-248-0546 or www.allenslane.org.

The Allens Lane Art Center is a true shining gem in our community and deserves our continuing support. The Chestnut Hill Community Fund collects contributions from hundreds of folks like you and redistributes those funds in the form of small grants to worthy nonprofits in Northwest Philadelphia. Please help us to continue supporting the Allens Lane Art Center and over 30 other worthy organizations. You can make a contribution in person or by mail to CHCF at 8434 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118, or online to www.chdashboard.com/member/login, or contact Noreen at 215-248-8810. Thank you.