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Inspiring the Next Generation Through the Performing Arts

Published February 2, 2024

Inspiring the Next Generation Through the Performing Arts

by Dennyse Sewell

No one forgets their first time inside the Pioneer Center – affectionately known locally as “The Golden Turtle,” thanks to its unique architecture. If you grew up in this region, you may remember attending a school field trip to the Pioneer Center for a musical concert, dance performance, or a children’s theater production. You and your classmates may have been escorted off the school bus by your teacher, then walked single-file inside this strange and fantastical building for a performance that transported you to another world. For over 50 years, the Pioneer Center has welcomed hundreds of thousands of children for these memorable first experiences, introducing them to the magic of the performing arts in the awe-inspiring setting of a grand theater.

School field trip performances at the Pioneer Center in downtown Reno
The Pioneer Center’s flagship educational outreach program

But what about the children who aren’t able to participate in those field trips, and who perhaps don’t otherwise attend any events at the theater with their friends or family members? Is there a way to bring the arts to them? 

In 1950, a program began in Baltimore, Maryland that sought to integrate classical music performances into children’s elementary school education. The intention was to bring the arts to all public-school children during their regular school day, thereby removing as many barriers to access as possible – whether those barriers were physical, financial, geographic, or otherwise. This program grew into the nationwide Young Audiences movement, a robust national network that connects children all across the country with educational arts experiences. Our own local chapter of Young Audiences began in 1967 as an independent nonprofit that presented arts programming in elementary schools throughout Washoe County and outlying rural communities. In 1998, Young Audiences of Northern Nevada merged operations with the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, resulting in Pioneer Center Youth Programs – or “PCYP,” for short.

Local artist group “Petroglyph” presented by PCYP

Through PCYP, we are able to mobilize “The Golden Turtle” and extend the reach of the Pioneer Center out across the vast stretches of northern Nevada. We present a broad spectrum of interactive, educational, and entertaining live performing arts programming in elementary schools, public libraries, and community centers. Designed specifically for children grades K-5, PCYP programs weave age-appropriate state curriculum and audience participation into each performance so that students are learning about school subjects in new ways while engaging in the performance art creation. PCYP programming meets different styles of learning while engaging both sides of developing minds – and it’s fun!  

Our team curates a seasonal roster of resident local artists and touring groups who are presented under the PCYP banner each year. The roster offers a range of music, dance, theater and more, representing diverse world cultures and art makers, and helping students discover exciting performances that extend beyond their everyday experience. Providing arts education opportunities for children throughout their elementary years stimulates the development of creative thinking and expression, encourages teamwork, enhances community connection through shared experiences, and plants the seed for future opportunities in the performing arts. By bringing these programs to children within their regular school day, we help ensure that all children in our region have equal opportunity to share in the benefits of arts education.

Local artist group “Reno Taiko Tsurunokai” presented by PCYP

The Pioneer Center’s mission is to cultivate exceptional performing arts experiences in our historic venue and throughout the region. We know that education is fundamental to a thriving community, and we truly believe that the arts are for everyone. PCYP allows us to send the power of live performance to school children and families from Gerlach to Lovelock, Fallon to Minden, Carson City to Incline Village, Virginia City to Zephyr Cove, and neighborhoods across the greater Reno/Sparks area. This flagship outreach initiative is now offered to over 126 partner venues across Carson, Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral, Pershing, Storey, and Washoe Counties. This year, we are expanding even further with the addition of Winnemucca in Humboldt County. 

Local artist group “Bruka Theatre for Children” presented by PCYP

PCYP programming reaches an average of 20,000 to 30,000 children and their families across northern Nevada each season. It has been an important part of early arts education in our region for over five decades, with more than 1 million children served in that time. These types of arts outreach programs bring depth and richness to a traditional educational model, enhancing classroom learning and providing children with unique opportunities to connect with each other and the world around them. We are proud to carry forward the founding intentions of the Young Audiences movement and to inspire each new generation of children in our region through PCYP.

Touring artist group “Boxtales Theater Co” presented by PCYP


Dennyse Sewell is the President and CEO of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno, Nevada

More from Dennyse Sewell

Happy 56th Birthday, Pioneer Center! by Dennyse Sewell — December 29, 2023

The Transformative Potential of Opportunities in the Arts by Dennyse Sewell — November 17, 2023



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