Milwaukee Youth Arts Center completes expansion

Repurposed 42,000 square feet to add new rehearsal halls, studios

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The Milwaukee Youth Arts Center recently completed a building expansion that will allow the facility to serve more students.

The organization, which is home to First Stage and Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, repurposed 42,000 square feet of previously unused space on the lower-level of its 101,000-square-foot facility at 325 W. Walnut St. to add two new rehearsal halls, six studios and six small group instruction rooms.

Former Hal Leonard Corp. executives Keith Mardak and Mary Vandenberg gave $5 million to help fund the expansion.

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MYAC to date has raised $14 million for the campaign, which the organization says will allow the building to serve an additional 20,000 students.

The building was renamed the Mardak|Vandenberg Building in recognition of the gift. A new commons area is named after the late Richard Burke, the former Trek Bicycle Corp. chairman and a founding philanthropist for the organization.

MYAC and its partner organizations are still recovering from the pandemic, which has limited the number of students who can gather indoors to rehearse.

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Prior to COVID-19, MYAC would have 500 to 700 students streaming in and out of its building on any given night, said executive director Del Wilson. Following the initial shutdown, MYAC has ramped up its capacity to serve about 250 or 300 students per night, he said.

Other organizations that use the space include Bel Canto, Milwaukee Children’s Choir and Danceworks.

MYAC first opened its doors in 2005. It draws students from across the region, including those who come in from north of Appleton, west of Madison and northern Illinois, as well as central Milwaukee, Wilson said.

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Both MYSO and First Stage made an intentional decision 15 years ago to locate MYAC in a neighborhood that bridges Milwaukee’s downtown and north side, recognizing that students – many of whom were coming from schools where arts budgets are limited – needed their programming, Wilson said.

Mardak and Vandenberg have donated money to ensure Boys & Girls Clubs students have access to First Stage and MYSO programming. The philanthropists were recently awarded BizTimes Media’s Nonprofit Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award for their extensive support for youth arts and education initiatives in the city.

Work on the expansion project began in winter 2021 and was largely completed in October.

MYAC worked with Milwaukee-based Ramlow/Stein Architecture + Interiors and Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction Company on the project.

In addition to the new rooms, MYAC renovated its Goodman Mainstage Hall, converting it from traditional stadium seating to round seating that can accommodate 142 people. Throughout the building, florescent lighting was replaced with dimmable LED for energy savings and to create a better learning environment for young people on the autism spectrum.

The next phase of MYAC’s project will include renovating MYAC’s building on Fourth Street, which the organization purchased in 2016.

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