Sandy City is home to three incredible arts programs. The Arts Guild, which produces plays and musicals, Mountain West Ballet and American West Symphony and Chorus. Each organization is non-profit, and hundreds of volunteers come together to bring each production to life.
Through music, theater and dance, the youth of our community are finding their voices and their confidence: a place where they feel like they belong, and ultimately, a purpose.
Arts programs are often the first to go when budget cuts or other conflicts arise, but the lives these programs have changed lead one to wonder why we aren’t putting greater emphasis on the arts in our community.
Todd McRae was involved in the Arts Guild’s 2014 production of “Footloose.” He was an active duty Marine when he received a call from his brother-in-law, asking if he’d like to audition. McRae had just been diagnosed with PTSD and was terrified at what returning to life as a civilian would mean for him, after serving actively in both Afghanistan and Okinawa, Japan.
He created a video audition, mailed it in, and was given a part in the ensemble. “That show changed my life in a way I can’t put into words,” McRae said. “I didn’t know what I was going to be doing with my life [and] they gave me a purpose.”
The Arts Guild teaches so much more than theater. The children learn confidence, and they learn to be part of something bigger than they are. “They all work together,” said Liz Jenkins, who works as the assistant stage manager. “All of the little girls have an older girl that sort of takes care of them; it’s really great to see the way everyone becomes like family.”
Michael, John, and Wendy with fairies in the background looking on in disbelief as their beloved Nana is removed from the nursery during the Arts Guild’s rehearsal of “Peter Pan Jr.”
Forrest Lorrigan, 16, has been performing with the Arts Guild since 2008. This year he shines as Captain Hook in the production of “Peter Pan Jr.” His mother, Nichole Sorenson, spoke about the incredible joy that the theater has brought to her son. “He wouldn’t be where he is right now without the arts,” she said. “If these arts programs weren’t here, so many things around us would dissolve. It’s the arts that allow people to find who they are and be who they were meant to be.”
Sorenson has done her research on arts programs and said that she has found the Sandy Arts Guild to be the most reputable and professional in the state.
Sandy has certainly set a high bar for arts programs: just ask Joel Rosenberg, music director and conductor of the American West Symphony and Chorus. American West is the only orchestra in the entire South Valley area that performs major works, including the beloved “Carmen Suite #1” that will be performed at their concert on May 7.
Maestro Rosenberg conducts the American West Symphony as they play Sibelius’ 5th Symphony during a late night rehearsal.
His enthusiasm was contagious as he spoke about the other pieces to be performed this year, including Mozart’s “Piano Concerto,” Sibelius’ “Symphony #5” and excerpts from Verdi’s “Requiem.”
Rosenberg is incredibly passionate about music and teaches in a way that sparks passion within each member of his orchestra as well. He spoke highly of the educational outreach program and the Canyons Youth Symphony, which combines the youth orchestra with American West. “It’s a great experience for young people to learn,” Rosenberg said. “The youth are sitting right next to members of our orchestra as they play.”
For Charlotte Jordan, chairman of the board for American West Symphony and Chorus, music is about culture. “Culture is the fabric that really makes a community,” she said. “Music does not discriminate. I watch children play along with seniors and everyone else. Music just keeps you alive.”
Jordan said that her true mission is to really expose the youth of Sandy to classical music. “Kids today are so culturally deprived. They are hooked up to their electronics all of the time.”
With the major focus they place on education, American West programs offer a great deal of hands-on experience for the children involved.
“Young children are so eager to learn,” Jordan said, as she spoke about their interactive programs. “The class is thirty minutes long, and after forty-five we have to send them away because they don’t want to leave.”
This spring, the musicians will be performing Beethoven’s “5th,” something “they’ll never forget,” said Jordan.
Kate Johnson, president and CFO of Mountain West Ballet, believes that every dancer should be given the chance to perform. “Our last cast had over 400 dancers,” Johnson stated during a presentation to the city council. “Anyone taking ballet who wants to be involved is given a part.”
Each year, Mountain West Ballet stages two productions, including their annual performance of “The Nutcracker.”
13-year-old Amelia Rukavina has been dancing since she was just three. Mountain West Ballet has provided her with the opportunity to dance in full-length ballets, an experience that she would not otherwise have had. Because of this program, Rukavina has also had the opportunity to dance with aspiring dancers who are older than her and are a constant source of inspiration, and was also accepted into a summer dance program in Houston.
“[Dance] changes you,” she said during an interview. “It makes you a better you. I’ve learned how to not let things discourage me, and how to be confident.”
Each child, parent, and volunteer I spoke with came to the same resounding conclusion: the arts change lives.
The children involved learn discipline, teamwork and the value of hard work and dedication in ways that could never be taught in a classroom.
When asked what they would tell other youth about the arts, every answer was the same: get involved and see the impact for yourself.