Articulate May 2017

Bringing Arts to the Community

Written By: Caroline Redmond


The University of Florida Performing Arts (UFPA) has been a cultural epicenter for North Central Florida since its inception in 2000, attracting world-class talent and exposing the area’s citizens to diverse artistic experiences typically unavailable outside of big cities like New York or Chicago.

UFPA features an extensive lineup of performers including everything from ballet to step dancing to orchestras, all held in their four venues, The Curtis M. Phillips Center for Performing Arts, University Auditorium, Squitierri Studio Theatre and UpStage at the Phillips Center. Despite the numerous world-class performances in their venues, the staff knows that sometimes they need to bring the arts to the community, which is exactly how the education outreach program began.

The education outreach program brings artists into local classrooms and onto school campuses and gives the artists the opportunity to teach, perform or talk with the students about the arts. The goal of the program is to give those in the community a taste of the arts that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

One of the more popular aspects of the outreach program are its master classes. These classes are offered on an invitation only basis to UF and Santa Fe College students, as well as elementary, middle and high schools in the community.

During the classes, artists teach on a variety of topics ranging from the performing arts to current events to gender equality.

Derek Wohlust, the education program coordinator, said they focus on reaching out to elementary schools in the area because many schools don’t have arts in their curriculum. Wohlust believes it is important to foster a love of arts at a young age. If the students are exposed early, their appreciation and admiration for the arts can grow as they do.

The outreach program is a great avenue for UFPA to spread arts and culture to Gainesville and surrounding communities because it opens people’s minds about art and the different ways one can experience it. You don’t need to be in a concert hall to listen to worldclass musicians.

This program is only possible due to contributions from generous donors like Russ and Brenda Robinson. The Robinsons have been supporters of the UF Performing Arts Center since 2000 and started donating to the program roughly eight years ago. Brenda, who has been a part of the Gainesville community since 1968, remembers what the community was like before the Phillips Center. “The Center has exponentially enriched this community,” she said. “When we didn’t have it, Gainesville was a much smaller place.”

Russ was a part of UF’s School of Music for 32 years and has supported the UFPA fervently because he wanted to set an example for others to be more involved in our dynamic music community. “I tried to be an example when I was in the School of Music that all learning doesn’t take place in the four walls of the college. There’s so much out there that students can learn and that professors can glean,” Russ explained.

The Robinsons, like other donors to the education outreach program, know the importance of taking the arts to the community. The University of Florida Performing Arts Center wants people to see prestigious talent like the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the Phillips Center but also wants to have them work with students in masterclasses.

Russ and Brenda have a passion for supporting the education outreach program because they have a deep love for the arts and truly want to see the community they care for grow and prosper. “I came to Gainesville as an undergraduate student, put down roots, and this town has become my home,” Brenda explained. “Donating to the program is a way to give back to a community that’s been very good to me.”

Across our country, support for the arts is declining. School programs are seeing their funding cut. A whole generation of students are in danger of never having the opportunity to develop a passion for music, theater or dance.

Programs like the UFPA’s education outreach are helping combat this nationwide issue, starting in our own schools. The UFPA attracts world-renowned talent to Gainesville and the outreach program takes that talent to our community.

The program’s focus on showcasing diverse and thought-provoking artistry gives Gainesville an inimitability and edge that will continue to attract people from surrounding areas for years to come and provides aid in the longstanding battle to save the arts.

RUSS AND BRENDA ROBINSON are long-time residents of Gainesville. Russ is an Emeritus Professor of Music at UF, and Brenda is a partner with Trimark Properties.


For more information on the University of Florida Performing Arts and its education outreach program, visit

CAROLINE REDMOND is a fourth-year telecommunications student at the University of Florida. In her spare time, Caroline enjoys reading, spending time outdoors and yelling at contestants on Chopped who try to make last-minute vinaigrettes. She also considers herself an amateur cat photographer — her muse is her cat, Snoop Dogg.

Leave a Comment