- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Rhonda Buckley, founder and executive director of the Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts in Northwest.

Question: How has moving to Kalorama Road NW this fall benefited your organization?

Answer: Since our move, we have been able to increase the number of classes that we can offer and the number of students we can register, and that will only keep growing.

Today we have a fully equipped dance studio with a sprung floor and ballet barres, so teaching dance is a different experience for us now. We have been able to increase the number of dance classes and also the number of styles we can teach. In addition to ballet, we offer modern jazz, belly dancing, hip-hop dancing, and we have Indian dance.

In our arts studios we are able to teach two classes at once now, and we’re in the process of purchasing a kiln so we will be able to have pottery classes for students. It’s all pretty wonderful.

Music and drama will be taught in our new theater, and that’s where we will offer our classes with the Washington National Opera, which begins in January. Plus, we have planned a summer musical theater program for students, and the theater will also serve as a recording studio.

We feel all children should have [access to] these opportunities regardless of their financial resources, so we wanted to build a place that would speak to the value of the children and encourage them to do their very best work and discover their unique individuality.

Q: Has the Sitar Center formed partnerships with other arts groups?

A: Yes, we have teamed up with the Washington Performing Arts Society [WPAS], and we also formed a new partnership with Arena Stage — which is really exciting. I believe these are true partnerships because we can now offer our partners an appropriate space in which to teach.

WPAS and Arena Stage both provided input into the design of our new space, as well. Arena Stage offers a playwriting class taught by one of their artists in residence.

And we’re entering our second semester with the Washington National Opera, which offers a multidisciplinary program: Youths create a story, write a libretto, write the music, learn about costume, set design and makeup and then they present their own 30-minute opera. Last spring, the children presented “Change of Heart,” based on the Cinderella story.

In addition to the Arena Stage and WPAS, we have partnerships with other groups, including the Corcoran, the Washington Ballet, the City Dance Ensemble and the Levine School of Music.

Q: Have you set any goals for the Sitar Center?

A: We want to buy the building [that we currently occupy]. We need to raise $1 million, but we have recently extended our time limit in which to do that.

By the end of 2006, we need to raise an additional $1 million to purchase the building. We’re renting now, and we have a long-term lease with a purchase option.

We want this to be a very concrete expression of the creative energies of our youths and have it located in the heart of Adams Morgan. The purchase of this building will help us ensure that we are here for a long time.

Q: What are the requirements for attending the Sitar Center?

A: Students must live in the [surrounding] Northwest neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights. All students must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when they register for courses and then they must commit. That’s the most important thing. That’s why parents must be involved.

The Sitar Center is not a drop-in center or a hang-out center. It’s a place for students to pursue their interest in the arts. So we require that all students sign a commitment form, and we ask parents to sign a commitment form to support their children and volunteer at the center for one hour a month.

PATRICIA M. SITAR CENTER FOR THE ARTS

Founded: 1998

Contact: Rhonda M. Buckley, executive director, 202/797-2145. Donations can be sent to 1700 Kalorama Road NW, Suite 10, Washington, D.C. 20009.

Staff: Five full-time and three part-time employees

Background: The Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts provides a safe, structured environment during the after-school and weekend hours for youths and families living in the Northwest neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights.

The organization focuses on arts activities, including music, dance, drama, creative writing and visual arts.

In September, the arts center moved to its new home — a state-of-the-art facility on Kalorama Road.

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