A local boy or girl discovers an affinity for music, dancing or art. Early lessons uncover an aptitude, but the family’s lack of income means they cannot afford further instruction, and their child’s talent may remain undeveloped. But since 2013, some such families have been able to turn to the Pekin Performing Arts Center for assistance.

The performing arts center, headquartered at the Classical Dance Academy at 359 Court St., is a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for talented, low-income youth in central Illinois for artistic disciplines including music, dance and visual arts. The center receives scholarship funds either through private donations or fundraising activities.

“The Performing Arts Center is a pure scholarship organization, and all the money we raise goes straight back to the kids and their families,” said Liz Waldschmidt of Bloomington, owner of the Classical Dance Academy and founder of the Pekin Performing Arts Center. “I reach out to all our local music teachers and art teachers in the area. If they see children with a need and are afraid they may not be able to continue with lessons, then their parents can apply to us for a scholarship that might let them take classes here or continue extracurricular music or art lessons.”

Waldschmidt founded the center because she recognized that there is often a need for financial assistance in developing aspiring local dancers, musicians and painters.

“I asked myself, ‘How can I make sure these talented kids are still able to do these activities?’” said Waldschmidt. “There’s a lot of talent out there, but it costs money to foster that talent. Just because parents might not be able to afford piano lessons or dance classes shouldn’t mean kids aren’t able to do it.”

Gretchen Gaudet of Pekin has two children who are taking lessons at the Classical Dance Academy. As a stay-at-home mother, she found the lessons expensive. She applied for and received partial scholarships for both children. Her 8-year-old son, Landon, has been a student at the Classical Dance Academy for 2 1/2 years.

“He started because he wanted to learn hip-hop,” said Gaudet. “He was so good that he was asked to be on a competition team, and he danced tap and jazz. Once he got the hang of those, he enjoyed it so much that he wanted to learn other things like ballet and tumbling and learn more about dancing with a team.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Landon. “My favorite part is getting out and dancing. It’s also fun being the only boy in my class.”

Fundraising events for the center include extravaganzas at the academy that consist of all-day exhibitions and smaller endeavors like sales of secondhand dance wear. The center’s signature fundraisers, however, are Jack Frost Golf Outings.

“Our Jack Frost outing is mini putt-putt golf played indoors,” said Waldschmidt. “We do it mainly within some local establishments such as Maquet’s Rail House and Mashie’s. It’s kind of a pub crawl, where you go around to different establishments and each business designs its own golf hole. At the end, there are prizes for best costume and the best-designed golf hole. We average about 220 participants every year and raise anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000.” 

The Performing Arts Center is committed to providing professional, educational, and cultural support to the community and promotes educational development programs that support the advancement of its members. The center’s objectives are to increase the number of local individuals interested in the arts, develop programs that benefit people seeking careers in dance and the arts, and inform the public of educational contributions and achievements of local artists through performances and programs. 

“It has been proven that the arts help grow strong minds,” said Waldschmidt. “Through the PAC, we’re able to give those children who may not otherwise have the extra help and strong backing to help them become stronger in their adulthood.” 

Applications for Pekin Performing Arts Center scholarships become available in August and are due Sept. 1. The center awards scholarships by Sept. 15. For more information, visit www.pekinpac.org.