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Filling The Gap: Infinity Providing Music and Arts Education

Walking through the door of Infinity Visual and Performing Arts is walking into a colorful world all it’s own. The vivid blue draping the walls around you is inviting in comparison to the bleak and colorless winter we are all too familiar with in Western, NY.  Still, the bright welcome and comfortable waiting area, full to the brim on most weekdays with school age children and their parents, is not the thing that draws these families to the programming at Infinity.

Rather, it is the magic of music and art brimming around the corner of this space that truly catches your attention.

As the Office Coordinator at Infinity, I am regularly (and happily) tasked with the mission to provide tours for our space, whether it be for a large group during new student intake, or for other members of the community that are simply interested in learning what our program is all about. When leading them down the long hallway through our educational space, I can not help but smile when witnessing their awe and appreciation.

In the Fall of 2014, Infinity took a giant leap and a change of address, moving into the Lynn Building in Jamestown, NY, a mere block away from our previous space across from the Reg Lenna. The new center, covering an incredible 14,100 sq. ft. of the Lynn Building’s first floor, has been the perfect foundation on which to lay the pillars of our program: music, art, dance, theater, and literature. In addition to:

  • 16 individual lesson rooms
  • 2 dedicated art rooms
  • 2 dedicated rehearsal rooms
  • a professional recording studio
  • and a dance studio

Nearly 4,000 sq. ft. of the space is devoted to the Infinity Arts Cafe, which is host to over 100 events per year. In contrast to our previous location, an 8,300 sq. ft. space with only 10 lessons rooms, our location in the Lynn Building has provided the space Infinity’s ever-growing program requires.

Infinity is commonly mistaken for being exclusively a music program, having been founded over 16 years ago with this original intention. Yet, the program has expanded to new and incredible heights since its inception in 1998, and offers programming far beyond that.  At it’s core, Infinity is a non-profit youth development program with a noble mission aimed at the next generation,

to create and sustain an environment in which (they)…can grow, learn, and lead through active participation in the visual and performing arts.

With this mission in mind, the Infinity team offers up a variety of ways to become involved in the arts. The team currently boasts over 40 instructors that teach private lessons and group classes.  Students of all ages are welcome to participate, including adults. There is even programming offered for birth-kindergarten aged children.

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Infinity is currently servicing over 300 private lesson students every week, and the numbers continue to grow from month to month. By the end of Infinity’s 11 month program year, over 2,000 area youth will have benefited from the music and arts education that is provided. Still, this is only a small percentage of the youth population in Jamestown, NY.  The United States Census Bureau estimates that since 2010, the population in Jamestown has lingered around 30,000 people, and nearly 25% of that population are individuals under the age of 18. Ideally, each and every one of these children would receive the music and arts education that is so crucial to their early childhood development. Tides in Western NY and across the country are unfortunately pulling children in the opposite direction. Budget cuts are crippling music and arts education programs in public schools, making programs like those offered by Infinity an invaluable asset to youth development in the community. Children and young adults that are regularly exposed to music and art benefit in a variety ways, beyond simply having an outlet for their natural talent and creativity. Learning how to play an instrument or exploring a new art form is developmentally beneficial, assisting in language development, decision making, motor skills, and visual learning. Infinity’s program offers students a platform on which to build self-trust, leadership skills, confidence, and more.

Without programs like those offered by Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, area youth would not have the music and arts education required to fill this gap being left wide open in their public school education.

Infinity’s Executive Director, Shane Hawkins, has been a staff member at Infinity for 12 years, and of the 6 years she has spent as the director, she has noticed the impact this program has had, both in her community, and for her own family. When asked why she believes that Infinity is so important in our local community, she commented:

The key for young people to progress personally, to want to make positive choices for themselves, and to discover that they have a strong measure of control in their own life and future, is to find something that sparks them. They need to have mentors willing to open those doors and help them create networks to support their interests and ideas. Infinity does this. Our students experience unlimited creativity within a safe structure of mutual respect. I think this is important for every young person, but our community battles some pretty serious poverty rates, among other significant societal issues. For our area, I believe a program like Infinity is even more critical, and helps each student immeasurably. It strengthens our community’s future.

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When speaking of the impact Infinity has had on her own children, Shane continues:

Neither myself nor my husband play any instruments.  We both wanted our kids to try things we hadn’t. We joined Infinity in 2003, and meeting so many musician mentors, and other kids who played music changed everything for our kids. I became a parent volunteer, and I was eventually hired as a staff member. Our oldest took a pretty extreme path. Most of his teen years were spent gigging throughout the region, and he released three original albums by the time he was 17. He was awarded a partial scholarship to Berklee College of Music, and was able to test out of many classes due to his training at Infinity. He graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree at age 19. He’s been touring the world and supporting himself as a musician ever since. My daughter also jumped into music and plays at least a dozen instruments. She released an album and gigged with a duo partner through much of her teen years. She is a visual artist and musician, but chose to go to college for Veterinary Technology and will graduate this spring. Our youngest is 13, and plays several instruments, performs with two Infinity ensembles, and isn’t set on what he will choose to do after high school. Three different paths, but the empowerment and confidence they gained through their relationships and experiences at Infinity gave them each something unique. For these two non-musicians to have three multi-instrumental children that possess self-confidence and a belief in their ability to build their own life, it really is a beautiful thing. We could not have mentored our kids in their musical interests. We needed the educators at Infinity to fill that gap.

Students walk away from Infinity with experiences like these every year. In a community eagerly embracing music and arts education as a necessary part of youth development, Infinity Visual and Performing Arts is working to be a sanctuary for the next generation of musicians and artists that will shape the world in the years to come. In her final comments, Shane Hawkins expressed:

I’ve watched so many kids become focused and engaged and sparked by their dreams.  I’ve seen Infinity change lives and open doors students didn’t even know existed.

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For more information about Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, visit www.infinityperformingarts.org or Infinity’s Facebook page.

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