African American Children’s Theatre needs support to continue

By Lynda Jones and Wanda Richards-Miller

Members of the African American Children’s Theatre are shown during a rehearsal for one of their past plays, this one was Harriet’s Freedom Train.

It has been said that reading, writing and math are the keys to education. It has been said that with these keys, the individual will have what it takes to be successful in life. While there may be some truth to this, Constance Clark would beg to differ with this point. She has a passion for children that resonates through her work with the African American Children’s Theatre (AACT), that she founded in 1989, following a family tragedy which highlighted the overwhelming need in her community for adult-directed nurturing, creative arts for youth was born.

Clark believes “the Arts should be first for all children. They must have a creative mind to sustain the information given by the teacher. Educators must have an open mind to educate students with the Arts. With arts in education, the students will follow you to the moon. Arts are a strength that must be cultivated in the child.”

For nearly 22 years, as AACT’s artistic/executive director, Clark has directed all of AACT’s programs, producing more than 45 youth-driven musical theatre productions and creating the Academy of Theatre Training and Leadership Development, a unique afterschool theatre program which has mentored over 1,000 central city children in an intimate, supportive environment.

Clark credits her mother who saw that her daughter had a creative spirit about her. Her creative spirit lead her to pursue a successful professional performing career. Her background includes many stage performances, voiceovers, radio, television, and industrial films. This phenomenal lady has been honored for her work in the arts and youth programming with such wards as the Trailblazers Award for Creativity from Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Outstanding Service Award from Potawatomi Bingo-Casino’s Miracle on Canal Street, The Milwaukee County Board’s “Planters of the Positive Seed” award and the Jack Rosenberg Award for lifetime commitment to social justice.

Now, Clark finds herself fighting for the survival of the Arts group. The financial downturn has not been a friend to the arts community, especially children’s arts education. As we have even witnessed nationally, arts programs are the first to suffer in times of budget cuts even in schools. While mainstream children’s arts organizations and programs in Milwaukee are experiencing financial obstacles, arts programs for Black groups are barely surviving, and unfortunately AACT is a part of this financial set back. The support of the African American Community is needed financially now to help keep this arts program alive.

An AACT anonymous donor is willing to match funds of $5,000.00 from the community to support the arts group.

Clark says that this is an opportunity to educate the community on how the arts are funded, that individual support drives the dollars that allow the arts to continue.

“Grants are a small part of the funding process. For larger companies, individual support is major for survival.”

Before state government budget cuts, AACT could depend on 8 to 10 thousand dollars a year from the Wisconsin Arts Board. Clark shared that this year they will receive $2,000.00 instead, which of course AACT is still grateful for.

Clark says, “Public dollars should be split equitably, but it’s not done that way. We’re always going to get a small amount because of the size of our theatre companies. Black arts haven’t received a lot of public dollars because our budgets are small.”

Every child deserves that chance to express themselves in a safe and creative environment. AACT provides that environment, and lets children have fun with creative performance while educating them about African American culture. AACT is a fun after school program with a purpose. This children’s musical theatre program encourages each youth to become the best person they can be.

AACT provides opportunities for participants to learn about their American heritage and see positive, non-violent images of African American life. Youth can also explore the connections and similarities of a variety of cultures and their traditions through presentations like Holidays Around the World. Year after year, sold out performances for school groups, organizations, and family members and friends, demonstrate the need for expanded opportunities for the greater Milwaukee community to see its children participating in meaningful and productive activities.

AACT’s annual spring productions will take place on March 9 and 10, 2012 entitled ‘Keeping The Dream Alive’ and ‘The Musicians’ musicals by Patsy Ford Simms.

To donate to the AACT go to www.aact.us and click on the ‘donate’ button. You can also send a check to AACT, 325 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee, WI 53212.