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Sweetwater seeks support for arts education fund

| Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, 12:12 p.m.
Maddie Weaver, 8, looks over rows of plastic dinosaurs to choose from for a project during Sweetwater Center for the Arts and Fern Hollow Nature Center's weeklong camp, 'Exploring Art & Nature,' at Fern Hollow on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Maddie Weaver, 8, looks over rows of plastic dinosaurs to choose from for a project during Sweetwater Center for the Arts and Fern Hollow Nature Center's weeklong camp, 'Exploring Art & Nature,' at Fern Hollow on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016.

It was a longtime vision of past Sweetwater Center for the Arts board president Arthur “Tui” Coburn III to expand the nonprofit and its educational outreach programs.

With his death, a scholarship fund was set up to provide free classes for those who can't afford it. An estimated 100 scholarships will be given out in 2017 at Sweetwater, which offers more than 400 classes a year ranging from culinary to jewelry.

In December 2016, Coburn's wife, Ann, who also once served as board president at the center, died. To further honor the Coburn's commitment to volunteerism in Sewickley and expand educational programming at the center, the Community Arts Education Fund was created.

“It has been our mission to expand the benefits of our educational programs for more people,” said Sweetwater board President Richard McCormack. “At the same time, Ann had passed away and she was the last of the two of them and we said, ‘we really want to honor them, too, because they're such great role models for the community in terms of their volunteerism.'”

Sixty-three percent of Sweetwater's revenue comes directly from its educational programming and events, McCormack said. The other 37 percent of the $600,000 annual budget comes from benefactors and donations.

To ensure the center's longterm success, Tui Coburn had a vision to expand and offer more education programs. He even explored the Sewickley Valley seeking additional space for the center's educational programming.

While they've stayed in their space at the Old Sewickley Post Office building, they've expanded by offering classes at other locations, McCormack said.

“Strategically, we've captured that vision and kind of redirected it through outreach programs. We're saying ‘why do they all have to be in this building?'” he said.

Educational outreach programs require special funding, McCormack said.

The Sweetwater Community Arts Education Fund will be unrestricted money that can go to assist educational programs at the center.

“People who are donating to that fund, they're saying, ‘I really want to support your education fund and that we recognize how important it is to a community and to families,'” McCormack said.

One program the fund will help finance is classes for those with Parkinson's Disease.

Sweetwater leaders are in talks with the Parkinson's Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania to offering culinary classes that teach people with the disease about nutrition and how to buy, select and prepare their food.

Sweetwater set a launch goal to raise $20,000 for the fund by the end of August.

A kick-off party was held at the end of June at a board member's home, where two of the Coburn's sons came to honor their parents.

The hope is that the fund will carry on their legacy, while allowing Sweetwater to add more programming.

“We want to continue expanding our programming and adults that came here as a child, now they are bringing their children so we want to continue offering the programming that people have really come to know and love in their backyard essentially,” said Alyssa Virgin, marketing and development associate at Sweetwater.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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