RISE! (Rhythm in Setting Expectations)
Built in the early 1900s to serve a thriving African-American community in Norfolk, Virginia, the legendary Attucks Theatre in its heyday played host to such greats as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Nat King Cole. After a period of disuse, the restored and expanded theater—named for the African-American patriot killed in the 1770 Boston Massacre—reopened in 2004, with an altered mission to address changing times and changing needs. The historic Attucks still hosts lively performances. As a bonus, the theater now includes a 12,000-square-foot addition that houses classroom and rehearsal space for an ambitious arts education program.
“What’s remarkable is having this beautifully restored $8 million historic building that serves the needs of kids who can literally walk across the street from public housing and take part in all of the wonderful opportunities,” says Gail Easley, CACC’s executive director. The program offers free after-school and summer classes in a variety of disciplines, with a generous smattering of courses reflecting the arts of the African diaspora. Young dancers can take everything from hip-hop, ballet, and jazz to traditional West African dance. The center offers several levels of steel-pan instruction and sponsors its own steel-pan band that is invited to perform at festivals, colleges, and universities. Young people with an interest in technology can take computer classes or participate in an intensive video-production course called Behind the Lens. To build future audiences for the arts, the Crispus Attucks Cultural Center also enables RISE! participants to attend performances by leading professional artists at no charge.
Easley believes that the refurbished Attucks Theatre “is truly a lifeline” for the community’s youth. For young people to succeed in school or life, “you need to fulfill the basic needs—a place for them to feel safe, where they can feel loved and part of a community,” she says. “We believe that through RISE!, the Attucks Theatre is providing that sense of community through creative and educational opportunities that are lacking in their neighborhoods.”
In 2011, RISE! received the Dominion ArtStars’ Rising Star Award for its ability to enhance, lift the spirits of, and build a better quality of life for its community.
RISE! integrates academic achievement and mentorship with the arts in an after-school program that develops creativity, self-esteem, self-discipline, and leadership skills for the city’s most impoverished children and teens.Peter M. Huber Chairman, Norfolk Commission on the Arts and Humanities