Established in 1934 by Chester Wittell as the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Arts, the Institute opened its doors with 3 music students. Under Lila Lerch, the first managing director, the Institute grew to over 300 students and expanded its offerings to include music, dance, theater, and visual art instruction. An arts-based preschool and kindergarten were added and the Institute became licensed by the state. It is also home to the Yocum Gallery, a venue for exhibits and performances, the Berks Art Alliance, and Art Goes to School.
Over the years, the Institute has forged partnerships with schools and other non-profit organizations to increase access to the arts for both arts and non-arts outcomes. In 2005, in response to a challenge grant, the Institute launched the “Learning Through the Arts” campaign. Funds from the campaign were used to research and develop Primary Stages, the Institute’s signature theater program for children’s productions and arts education.
Since then, Primary Stages has partnered with the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis to become one of 13 national sites to offer Neighborhood Bridges. Neighborhood Bridges is a program integrated into the classroom curriculum that builds critical literacy through the theater arts.
In 2009, the Institute of the Arts celebrated 75 years of service to the community with a new name and a new look. On July 4, the Institute was renamed the Yocum Institute for Arts Education. The name change honors long-time donor, board member, and community philanthropist, James H. Yocum, whose philanthropic focus is education. The name further defines the Institute’s core mission of education in and through the arts.
The Yocum Institute’s educational programs touch the lives of thousands of people each year through onsite instruction and extensive outreach programs with libraries, public and private schools, retirement communities, and other nonprofit organizations. Today, quality instruction and access to the arts remain major priorities. Innovative programs and expanding partnerships help to widen the impact and benefits of the arts in our community. Its vision of “education in and through the arts” has increased the number of people served through private instruction, onsite classes, exhibits, productions, integrated arts summer camps, and outreach programs from 8,000 in 2008-2009 to over 25,000 people throughout Berks County in 2016.
In 2018, the Yocum Institute for Arts Education moved into a newly renovated building at 3000 Penn Avenue in West Lawn, Pennsylvania. The new site will continue the revitalization of the Penn Avenue corridor and will be ADA compliant, taking into account various activity abilities and participation restrictions. It will also feature expanded offerings for seniors, 90+ parking spaces, an educational theater space, expanded visual arts and dance studios, an emerging artist gallery, an up-to-date music wing, a secure arts-based kindergarten and preschool, and accessibility to a growing part of the county.
Yocum Institute for Arts Education’s Mission Statement:
The Yocum Institute for Arts Education’s mission is to connect and enrich our community through arts education, creative performance, and innovative programs.