For eighty-four years, the Yocum Institute has been a staple in Berks County, impacting the lives of generations of students and their families. Established in 1934 by Chester Wittell as the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Arts, originally located at 824 Penn Avenue, “the Institute,” as it is affectionately known, opened its doors with only three music students. Under Lila Lerch, the first managing director, “the Institute” became a nonprofit organization, grew to over 300 students, and expanded its offerings to include music, dance, theater, and visual art instruction.
Now, the Yocum Institute for Arts Education, named in 2009 after longtime donor, board member, and philanthropist James H. Yocum, is home to a state-licensed kindergarten and preschool, a theatrical production company (PrimaryStages Productions), the Berks Piano Quartet, the Yocum Dance Companies, Art Goes to School, and the Berks Art Alliance. The multi-discipline educational programs it offers to the community touch the lives of thousands of people each year through onsite instruction and extensive outreach programs with libraries, public and private schools, reti
rement communities, and other nonprofit organizations.
Today, quality instruction and access to the arts remain major priorities for the Yocum Institute. Innovative programs and expanding partnerships help to widen the impact and benefits of the arts in our community. Its vision of “education in and through the arts” has increased the number of people served through private instruction, onsite classes, exhibits, productions, integrated arts summe
r camps, and outreach programs from 8,000 in 2008-2009 to over 25,000 people throughout Berks County in 2016.
In 2018, the Yocum Institute is looking to expand and bring the arts to even more areas of Berks County as it returns to a site on Penn Avenue.
On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, the Yocum Institute for Arts Education broke ground on a new building, located at 3000 Penn Avenue in Spring Township. The groundbreaking was open to the community and preschool students and their parents rubbed shoulders with former students from decades past, staff, board members, and Mr. Yocum himself. Guests were able to look at blueprints of the new space, renderings of future rooms, and speak to those involved in the planning of the building.
The 40,000 square foot building, originally a knitting mill and warehouse, was purchased in June at $750,000 and is currently undergoing a $3.5 million renovation with Burkey Construction. There are many funding opportunities still available for those who look to be involved in the redevelopment.
The new site will continue the revitalization of the Penn Avenue corridor and will provide a greater access to the arts in the western half of Berks County. The building will be ADA compliant, taking into account various activity abilities and participation restrictions. It will also feature more extensive offerings for seniors, an up-to-date music wing, expanded visual arts and dance studios, and an emerging artist gallery. In addition, the new building will feature a black box theatre that has the potential of being open to the community for rental use and a parking lot with over 90 parking spaces!
The 3000 Penn Avenue building will host many new updates and amenities for preschool and kindergarten parents. There will be a new drop off lane that will allow parents the freedom to safely drop their students off for the day, as well as a secure, private entrance to the preschool wing. The building will host a partially covered play space perfect for the young (and young-at-heart) ones and increased accessibility to dance and music studios, an art gallery, and working theatre space.
With so many exciting changes and expanding opportunities for us and for our community, we cannot wait to see what the Yocum Institute of Tomorrow will be.