Celebrating 50 Years of Art and Community

On a crisp February evening, the Wayne Center for the Arts (WCA) glimmered with the warmth of celebration as it marked a significant milestone in its history: 50 years of enriching lives through art. An excited crowd gathered to honor this occasion and Roberta Looney Braid, a figure whose impact on WCA’s legacy echoes through the decades.

As the champagne flowed and laughter filled the air, memories mingled with anticipation for the future. Mike Gorrell’s music, reminiscent of days when his band Northwest Territory played on the center’s front lawn, provided a fitting backdrop to the evening. 

Roberta and former Board President Bill Cross joined via Zoom and became the focal point of the festivities. Attendees reminisced about her handwritten “thank you” cards, each penned with a Sharpie marker—a gesture emblematic of her appreciation for WCA’s community. And as County Commissioner Ron Amstutz heralded WCA’s legacy with a proclamation, the stage was set for a journey through time, from humble beginnings to a future brimming with promise.

Roberta’s tenure as executive director from 1991 to 2000 marked a period of significant growth and innovation for WCA. Under her guidance, the seeds of several initiatives were sown, laying the foundation for programs that continue to thrive today.

In 1992, the inaugural performance of “The Nutcracker” by Wayne Center Ballet heralded the beginning of a cherished tradition. Over the years, this pre-professional company has not only dazzled audiences but also nurtured countless young dancers, instilling in them not just artistic prowess but also invaluable life skills.

Another groundbreaking initiative in collaboration with Tri-County Educational Services Center, Project PARTnership, illuminated the path to arts education for special needs students across multiple counties. Recognized just this year as a “Very Special Arts Program” by the Kennedy Center, this collaborative endeavor remains a beacon of inclusivity and accessibility.

The emergence of the Wayne Center for the Arts Children’s Chorus during the 1990’s under Gary DeVault’s stewardship added another dimension to WCA’s community engagement. In 2023, WCA reintroduced the Children’s Chorus and looks forward to its growth once again.

The inception of the Functional Ceramics Workshop in the 1990s underscored WCA’s commitment to celebrating art in all its forms. This workshop still continues to be held at WCA and draws artists from across the country.

As the new millennium dawned, WCA embarked on a transformative partnership with S.T.E.P.S (now One-Eighty), extending its reach to vulnerable communities grappling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. What began as a small outreach program has blossomed into a robust community initiative, touching the lives of thousands across Wayne County.

Fast forward to the present, and WCA’s Community Outreach Program stands as a testament to the enduring power of art to heal and inspire. Collaborating with a diverse array of agencies, including One-Eighty, Boys and Girls Club of Wooster, Orrville Area Boys and Girls Club, The Village Network, YMCA of Wayne and Holmes Counties, NAMI of Wayne and Holmes Counties, Liberty Prep, and Head Start Preschools via Community Action of Wayne/Medina, WCA continues to be a catalyst for positive change in the lives of at-risk youth and adults alike.

As we celebrate 50 years of art and community, we look to a future filled with boundless possibilities. Guided by the visionaries who have shaped our past, and fueled by the passion of those who walk through our doors each day, the Wayne Center for the Arts remains steadfast in its mission to enrich lives and strengthen communities through art. Here’s to the next 50 years—and beyond!

P.S. We hope you will join us for the culmination of our 50th Anniversary Festivities at the Artrageous! Golden Celebration on April 27th!