The COVID-19 pandemic, with its many restrictions, caused turmoil for many in the arts community.
But it also gave the Raue Center For The Arts in Crystal Lake the chance to take a closer look at its offerings, and expand with a new School of the Arts, which started taking students in October.
Providing youth and adult classes in a number of disciplines, the school, modeled as a conservatory program for the arts, was just a “natural evolution” for Raue to take, said Richard Kuranda, executive director of Raue Center.
The ensembles and private voice and instrument lessons being offered through the school are something fairly new to the Raue, although it had offered everything from film workshops to painting to storytelling classes before, Kuranda said.
“This is the first institutional commitment for long-term strategic planning for the school,” Kuranda said.
The goal is to provide students a pathway to the arts community, such as having kids going from school productions with other children to becoming an apprentice with professional theater companies, he said.
The school is something that hasn’t been seen in the nearby area previously. Before, students had to travel to Aurora, Glencoe or Chicago for this kind of education, so “it’s really nice to offer this out in McHenry County,” Kuranda said.
Billy Seger, Institutional Advancement Associate for the Raue, who grew up in Woodstock, said he wished the school had existed when he was younger.
“I mean, what a fantastic place to get your start,” Seger said.
Before the pandemic, it was hard to find the time to officially open a school like this, Seger and Kuranda said. But when shows weren’t able to be performed because of space limitations and other COVID-19 restrictions, Raue Center staff were able to devote more time and attention to the fresh school concept.
With the pandemic, it’s important that people explore ways to break down the walls that they built up during a time of such isolation, Seger said.
“I think that’s what’s really exciting about starting the School for the Arts now,” Seger said. “Having something to offer to people who’ve been so isolated and locked away.”
The Raue is doing everything in a very safe manner, and has COVID-19 protocols in place, Seger said, so people can come into the space, practice their craft, and not feel like they’re taking a risk that’s going to put them in danger.
For the Raue to have this kind of stability in the community is “amazing,” Kuranda said, adding, “Right now, our society needs [this] more than ever. We need to start looking at each other, and realizing we’re all one community.”
Part of what the new school for the arts is teaching students is not only how to explore their artistry, but also who they are as human beings, Seger said.
“We’re also about building better citizens, for our community, and [as] citizens for the world,” Seger said. “People who understand that we all have our differences, we all come from different walks of life and beliefs, but we can all value an experience together.”
Something the Raue Center is excited about, Kuranda said, is that a lot of adults have been asking for a school like this. Whether it’s adults who used to do theater or those who never had an interest before their kids started taking classes at the Raue, they can come in and experience a classroom setting “and start to build that trust in that relationship,” Seger said.
“It’s never too late to find a new passion or something we love,” Seger said.
Also rewarding has been seeing kids on stage, Kuranda said. Recently, the Raue put on a performance of “Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.,” featuring students from its Sage Studio. Its Mission Imagination program, which offers fine arts shows for students, is also relaunching, Seger said.
Getting up on stage in the first place can be nerve-wracking for anyone, Kuranda said.
“It is so wonderful when you see an 8-year-old on stage, and then you see a 10-year-old girl put their hand behind them and say, ‘It’s OK,’ and give them that reassurance that they can do this,” he said.
Information on the new school can be found at rauecenter.org. Financial aid is available.