Drayton celebrates opening of Youth Academy, $1M in funding from Ottawa

Last updated on Jul 20, 23

Posted on Jul 20, 23

3 min read

A space dedicated to theatricality was all business July 14 as the federal government presented Drayton Entertainment with a grant of more than $1 million. The funding supports the recently opened Youth Academy in Waterloo.

“This is not a grant. And it’s not a gift. It is an investment. It’s an investment that will go way beyond the bricks and mortar of this actual facility. We are so grateful for the validation of what we do and what we can provide for our community, and for our young people,” said Drayton Entertainment’s founder and artistic director, Alex Mustakas, at the event.

The space, a portion of the Heffner Cabinetry building on Northfield Drive, has been renovated to now include rehearsal halls, classrooms, music rooms and acting studios.

“We recognized a long time ago that we needed to expand and develop new programs geared to young people, and we needed to provide them their own home. And that’s what this is about.”

The Youth Academy’s contribution to the local arts scene was lauded by Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger.

“I will tell you that there are a lot of things that I knew we would invest in and there’s a lot of things that we would do. This is not something that I thought would become possible. So, really, huge kudos to the people who have continued to champion these important voices,” she said. “By transforming this blank space into a hub for the arts and culture, we are reinforcing in young people the spirit of creativity and innovation.”

The space will be a home for arts-based programming for youth, with a focus on inclusivity.

The point is to focus on equipping kids with skills they need to succeed in life and become well-rounded people.

“While only a small portion of these kids that go through this place will end up in our profession, I think what we’re doing is building the next generation of community citizens. The skills they will learn here, they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. We are going to see future leaders of the community. We’re going to see future teachers, we’re going to see future audiences, we’re going to see future contributors to arts and culture. And I bet down the road you may even see the odd new member of parliament,” said Mustakas.

The organization also announced a tuition bursary endowment fund to offer bursaries to youth in order to remove any barriers they may face in accessing the programs.

“This new bursary fund now, it’s here for the future, we will never turn anyone away,” said Mustakas. “There’s a quarter of a million dollars that has been raised, that sits in this fund that will allow kids to participate. And we’re very proud of that.”

David Connolly, the associate artistic director and head of the youth academy, said the space is already meeting a need in the community, having welcomed a thousand students so far, offered adult classes, and produced the academy’s first musical – Legally Blonde the Musical in February. Also in the mix have been March Break camps, some workshops and the upcoming summer camps.

He spoke about the academy’s focus on inclusivity and representation in the arts. “Until now, in my lived experience, arts education doors have been shut, and we are flinging them wide open in the hopes that the pipeline to representation on stage and screen will change, will shift,” he said.

The federal funding was officially given to Drayton Entertainment in December 2022, though the renovations were already underway. Programming started running out of the building last summer, said Steven Karcher, the executive director, noting the organization has been running youth programming since 2016.

Last week’s event was held to celebrate the completion of the space.

For more information about the Drayton Youth Academy, visit www.draytonentertainmentyouthacademy.com.

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