As a kid I remember the east side neighborhood bordering Syracuse University was gone. Also gone was Madison School and my own Washington Irving elementary school, Urban Renewal had stopped just a block or two shy of our house.
There were no “community centers” the commercial district of the once bustling east Genesee street corridor resembled an old western town at noon you could have a shoot- out but there’d be no witnesses since everyone had been moved away.
Nestled between the residential neighborhood and the behemoth Syracuse University stood Salt City Playhouse. The “Playhouse” as it was affectionately called by some of the regulars was a community center shrouded in the arts.
Joe and Pat Lotito were stewards of the Playhouse which provided hours of activities if you wanted to get involved. There was an active children’s theater which offered lessons and next door a theater which was a nest of activity as directors and actors prepared production after production.
I was blessed to live just a block away from a Community Theater. Some of us became fixtures there by auditioning and being cast in plays.
Eventually as we grew older we began using a small experimental theater which served as rehearsal space while others were on the big stage.
A group of about 15 of us began 50 Cent Theater where on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon we could produce our own plays. Thomas Grimes was our leader who could write prolifically with plays coming from his legal pad every two months.
We didn’t go on to be stars of stage and screen. We stayed out of the streets because we had something creative to do. We were kept out of the streets by being active in the arts which cost very little compared to a full service expensive government sanctioned “community center”.
Arts funding is leveraged in so many ways, not just the economic benefit of people coming to town for a film festival and spending money. The value of visual and performing arts is immeasurable. Trying to quantify the arts is like trying to catch God with a butterfly net.
At that time there was no need for the modern day “community center” Salt City Playhouse and many other community theater groups operated on a shoe string budget. These respites for the arts were our community centers.
Now whatever crumbs community arts groups were given by the Onondaga County legislature are on the chopping block by those politicians who can afford to go to New York to “catch a show”.Shame.