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Exposing students to the arts: Mark and Patt Suwyn support arts education initiatives

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RILEY ROBINSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In recent years, Chautauqua Institution’s arts education initiatives have grown to include several art forms offered to students and educators in Chautauqua County beyond the summer season. Promoting creativity and engagement with the arts, and through partnerships with organizations such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Florida Studio Theatre, the Institution’s year-round educational programming has been recognized for providing students with experiences in drama, music, opera, visual arts and playwriting.

One of the initiatives is the Young Playwrights Project. Serving local third- and fourth-graders from various schools, students have the opportunity to write their own plays and have them presented by volunteers and staff at the Institution.

Every June, 10 winning plays out of over 400 are performed by Chautauqua Theater Company as part of the Family Entertainment Series. Mark and Patt Suwyn, supporters of the Young Playwrights Project, enjoy seeing the students’ creativity come to life.

“We were approached about this project two years ago,” Patt Suwyn said. “It has just really blossomed.”

Mark and Patt Suwyn have been visiting the Institution for 12 years, exploring master classes, lectures and other programming, in addition to spending time with their family. Because they have shared ownership of a condo with good friends of theirs, they stay for half the summer every year and enjoy what they described as a “brain-stimulating” environment.

The couple has been supporting the Young Playwrights Project for two years, and this season pledged their support to help underwrite the full range of arts education initiatives for the next three years.

Mark and Patt Suwyn said the Young Playwrights Project gives children the opportunity to express themselves, sometimes sharing certain struggles they or their families are experiencing.

“These stories are about what a third-or fourth-grader would think about,” Mark Suwyn said. “ … one of them this (year) was about (the family) having to move, and ‘If I move, I lose all my friends and how am I going to find news friends?’ They’re writing about real life stuff. … It’s a really powerful program.”

Patt Suwyn mentioned one of this year’s winning plays about a boy who wants a basketball hoop. The play is called The Boy Who Wanted A Hoop, and told the story of a mother who could not buy the boy a basketball hoop because she lost her job. She went out looking for new jobs until she was employed and able to buy the boy a hoop.

“That tells you a lot about what’s going on in the homes around here,” Patt Suwyn said.

The Suwyns also see the arts education initiatives as a beneficial way for the outside community to engage with activities taking place on the grounds. This summer, students had the opportunity to be exposed to the arts via field trips to the visual art galleries, and the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet’s Spring Gala performed in the Amphitheater.

In addition to Institution staff — including members of the artistic companies who partner with area schools to visit classrooms with these educational programs — Chautauqua also invites students from across the county to experience the arts firsthand with preview performance opportunities, guided tours of the galleries and more.

Mark Suwyn said the couple thinks it is important for students to be exposed to writing plays and the arts in general, and the couple hopes the Young Playwrights Project and arts education will continue to grow in the future.

The Suwyns recognize the importance philanthropy plays in the continuation and quality of these arts education initiatives.

“Because these (initiatives) are all based on philanthropy, one of the problems that the people who lead it have is ‘OK, we have enough (money) for the day, but what about next year? And the next year?’ ” Mark Suwyn said. “So we went ahead and committed for three-year escalating support. … It just gives them a much better foundation to go forward with, knowing (the money is there).”

For more information on underwriting opportunities, contact Karen Blozie, senior major gifts officer, at 716-357-6244 or kblozie@chq.org.

Tags : arts educationMark and Patt SuwynMark SuwynPatt Suwynyoung playwrights project
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The author Matthew Steinberg

Matthew Steinberg is a rising junior at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, studying communication arts, journalism and Spanish studies. He will be reporting for the development section of The Chautauquan Daily, but during his free time, he may be longboarding down NY 394, spending hard-earned money at TJ Maxx or even rewatching every film in the Marvel Universe. Feel free to chat with him sometime.