A Model for Hope in Harrisburg
Revitalizing Communities through the Arts in Harrisburg
Consider the great city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and how its history of industrial rise and fall has paved the way for its current landscape. Today, as with many of this country’s most important cities, Harrisburg is in need of both urban repair and community revitalization. But in the face of dwindling government funding for community-focused initiatives, is it possible to restore hope and vitality to its forgotten neighborhoods?
Thomas King Flagg, a long-time arts benefactor and fixture in the dance and entertainment world, and William Shipley III, head of a Pennsylvania energy company, believe the first step lies in the development and fostering of community arts programs that engage the city’s most underserved citizens and provide a positive, reliable refuge from the daily challenges they face.
Having forged a lifelong bond, born of their days co-leading an undefeated team of wrestlers at Suffield Academy, Flagg and Shipley are again joining forces, spearheading a movement to trigger and sustain a much-needed resurgence of social and economic growth in a city they both love. The culmination of this shared vision is the aptly named Positive Energy Arts Foundation.
Since 2012, Positive Energy Arts has been building a curriculum of performing arts education and outreach programs specifically tailored to meet the needs of Harrisburg’s most challenged community members. Starting with a series of urban dance and hip-hop events, Positive Energy Arts began making great inroads towards connecting, and building trust, with those who stand to benefit most from these efforts— the kids and their families. And through its continued collaboration with celebrated artists, educators and civic leaders, Positive Energy Arts’ diverse enrichment program, as well as its community presence and participation, continues to grow.
The concept of implementing grass-roots, art-based programming as a means for uplifting a struggling urban community is certainly not new, and the model is currently thriving in neighborhoods like Weehawken and Orange, New Jersey. What is unique about Positive Energy Arts is its focused, long-term vision and the exceptional talent it has employed to move that vision forward.
With Flagg’s relationships to Julliard, New York City Ballet and Alvin Ailey Dance Theater—to name a few— and Shipley Energy’s ties to Harrisburg’s civic, educational and philanthropic leaders, Positive Energy Arts is setting the stage for arts, recreation and learning programs to once again flourish. Ultimately, they can achieve permanence and sustainability through a strategic reclamation and renovation of abandoned infrastructure. And alongside, businesses will have new opportunities to emerge and thrive. In the end, an enduring cultural and physical transformation is possible.