Performance push: Weary Arts Group offers education, training for York County students
Calvin Weary was 2 years old when his mother took him to see his first Broadway musical, “The Wiz.”
She had bought an album of the show music beforehand, so her toddler knew all of the songs when he took his seat in the New York theater.
“They tried to throw me out, because I was singing all the songs in the front row,” Weary recalled, laughing.
Thus began a love for the theater, performance and the arts in general that remains stronger than ever for Weary, of Dallastown.
A singer, teacher and theater professional, for the last three years he has been the CEO of Weary Arts Group, a York-based company that provides musical and theater training and arts education to school students across York County.
It’s an impact that may be felt beyond the classroom.
Arts organizations can boost local economies by attracting audiences and creating an environment that encourages local businesses to locate near them, an expert on the U.S. arts community said during a recent visit to York.
Jay Dick, senior director of state and local government affairs for the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, related several stories of theaters, galleries, music venues and other artistic efforts bringing in coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses. Those, in turn, revitalize city blocks or even regions, he said. The Washington D.C.-based group is a research and advocacy organization that raises awareness of the value of the arts.
While he works primarily in the nonprofit world, Dick said the same community benefits flow from for-profit arts organizations, like Weary’s.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the nonprofit and for-profit arts and culture sector is a $730-billion-a-year industry in the U.S., comprising 4.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
That’s a larger GDP than construction (3.9 percent), transportation (2.9 percent) or mining (2.6 percent), Dick said. The arts, both for-profit and nonprofit, share some of the same challenges, the top ones being funding and an understanding by the public about how much the arts and culture contribute to the economy, he said.
Overall, funding for nonprofit arts groups is on the rebound after a rough patch following the Great Recession, Dick said following his Aug. 30 talk to the York County Economic Alliance on the economic impact of the arts.
From New York to York
Weary was born in Brooklyn but moved to York as a child. He went on to graduate from York Country Day School and York College. In the grunge-filled 1990s, he was the lead singer of a York-based punk-rock band, Edenpark.
After graduating from York College, Weary, now 43, taught at two former York-area schools, the William Penn Performing Arts Institute, a magnet program for area high-school students, and New Hope Charter School in York City.
When New Hope closed in 2014, Weary began his arts outfit, a for-profit with a budget of $50,000 and two paid staff members. He relies on performers like musician Rod Goelz and theater veterans Warkenda Williams-Casey and Dante Strange to instruct students.
Weary said his organization provides valuable life lessons for his students, who come from all races and economic and family backgrounds.
One thing he wants to do is teach his youngsters how to get back up after a tough break: “We as human beings are created to fail, so that we can learn how to not fail. If you didn’t have failure, then you would not recognize triumph.
“Failure happens,” he added, pausing before adding, “I have failed as much as anyone, and I have learned from every failure.”
Weary also wants to push his students: “We don’t say, ‘Oh, they’ve only done this, so we can’t do something else that’s harder’ No, we set high expectations, and then we get them to that point where they’re able to do it - meet them where they are at in life, but then drag them along to where they need to be. Training and hard work create options.”
Among the company’s staples is an annual performance of “The Wiz” each year, Weary said the show “creates a tradition of normalcy for both inner-city and county youths ... There’s really no show that I can think of that touches on so many issues and problems and has amazing music — it’s an amazing show altogether.”
His arts group had been moving from space to space, but since July it has been renting space from the nonprofit arts organization Creative York at 18 W. Philadelphia St.
Inside are six keyboards, two drum sets, lots of amplifiers and guitars, and a stage that hosts open-mic nights and where artists of all ages can perform.
Youngsters who attend Weary Arts Group get a chance to dabble a bit with each instrument, and instructors teach them actual songs (“the fun stuff,” as Weary said) before they learn things like notes and scales and how to read music, since many of the children and even many of the adults don’t have the attention span in this point-and-click age to learn the basics first, Weary explained.
Weary’s group also holds lunchtime exercise classes, called “10MINFIT.” Participants are asked to pay only what they can.
Weary Arts Group seems to be a good fit for her organization’s space, Creative York’s top official said.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to bring more activity to that location, and they are doing wonderful things out of that space,” Creative York executive director Amy Chamberlin said.
Eric Menzer, president of the York Revolution baseball team, called Weary “a bridge-builder – he is really interested in working across lines that can be dividing lines, whether they be racial, economic or others. His goal is working together for a common purpose.”
The baseball team has an active working relationship with Weary’s group. It has trained members of the Revolution “Rally Crew,” a team of pregame and between-innings entertainers.
Weary also has provided the staging and sound for Fourth of July celebrations at PeoplesBank Park and York’s Halloween Parade, which the team organizes.
Weary is “among the most genuine and dynamic people I’ve ever known,” Menzer said. “I’ve been a Cal Weary fan for a long time.”
Weary also has long been involved in the York community, serving as president of the York Youth Symphony Orchestra board and on the board of the York County History Center, among other organizations.
His wife, Stephanie, is from the Red Lion area, and Weary has three children: son Eli, 16, who attends Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg; and daughters Ella, 14, Amani, 11, who both are in Dallastown schools. Along the way, the one-time New Yorker has developed a love for York County and Central Pennsylvania.
“And that’s why I never left,” Calvin Weary said. “But there’s also something to be said for those of us who were born in other places, where our DNA develops someplace else, and then we come here, we’ve been here a long period of time — and we still want to bring the best of the best from the outside world to here, and our best here to the outside world.”