Arts center now at focus of new Point

For nearly three decades, the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center has been taking young kids off the streets and trying to transform their lives through introducing them to the arts. That’s no small task in one of the poorest communities in the city, where more than 3 in 10 families live below the poverty level.

Now the center is part of a larger effort — the Promise Neighborhood Initiative modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone — to provide cradle-to-career services for the Point Breeze and Grays Ferry communities. Music mogul Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies Inc. was among 21 groups nationally to receive a federal grant for planning.

Al Brown, the center’s senior vice president, is part of the committee examining community and economic development and the overall development of the plan. A longtime Point Breeze resident, Brown is optimistic about the plan.

“What Promise Neighborhoods will do is bring all of those plans, all those concepts, all of those ideas that we have, it can bring them to fruition that we haven’t had in the last 25 years,” he said. “Our kids will have focus, and direction and opportunity.”

The performing arts center provides after-school programs for about 400 kids, ages 2 to 17 and is described as an “art-for-social-change program.”

“They’re our strategic partner in the implementation of this whole concept,” Rahim Islam, Universal’s president and CEO, said of PBPAC. “They earned it. …We come at it [differently], but we’ve been working together in some way, shape or fashion since [Universal’s] beginning.”

PNI funding in limbo

Questions remain about the money behind implementation of the Promise Neighborhoods due to the ongoing budget battle in Congress, where over the last year it appeared money would top out at between $10 million and $20 million in 2011 for all 20 cities.

Rahim, of Universal, said they intend to go forward with the initiative regardless of earmarked funding thanks to other grants they’ve found. “We’ve already leveraged the planning opportunity to do more in this Year One,” he said.

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