A Brief History
The place we now call the Phoenix started life over a century ago as downtown Petaluma’s Hill Opera House. Enrico Caruso inaugurated a stage later graced by a variety of amazing artists, from Duke Ellington to the Ramones. Twice “remodeled” by fire, our home was christened “The Phoenix” when native Petaluman Tom Gaffey assumed the manager role in 1982. The Phoenix evolved into a one-of-a-kind teen center thanks largely to Tom’s approach: nurturing an environment that teens could claim as their own. For over 25 years, local youth have come to the theater for music, art, skateboarding, health services and a safe and welcoming place to just hang out. The popularity of the Phoenix among the teen community is an incredible asset and brings with it the responsibility of providing exceptional programs to the youth that we serve.
We are not alone in recognizing the value of our institution. When the Phoenix was threatened with demolition in 1999, the community rallied behind Tom to save it. The theater was saved when four local dot-com engineers (two of them former Phoenix kids) put up the cash to buy it. The non-profit Petaluma Phoenix Center, Inc. was founded to ensure the continuation and expansion of Tom’s original mission.
After-school programs, like those we offer, provide youth an alternative, a safe environment for self-exploration, development of social skills, and access to positive adult role models. Significant research shows that participation in after-school programs contributes to more positive attitude towards school work, improved school attendance, higher quality homework completion, better grades, lower dropout rates, and higher aspirations for college. It improves work habits and interpersonal skills. A joint report from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice shows that students in after-school programs also exhibit fewer behavioral problems, better ability to handle conflicts, and improved self-confidence.
Beyond emotional and social development, after-school programs fill gaps in programming left by budget cuts to schools in important areas such as arts, music, tutoring and mental health services. Participating in arts and music programming leads to higher achievement in other academic subject areas. Afterschool arts and music are a common ground for youth to explore the real life practicality of many of the skills that they learn at school and vice versa.
The Phoenix Center provides a diverse range of innovative and successful youth programs in the Arts, Music, Health and Wellness which foster emotional, physical, and intellectual development. Our programs engage the kids in alternative pathways to career development and professional advancement. The partnerships that we have cultivated with local public alternative schools allow students to participate in our programs while earning credits for school, getting them that much closer to graduation. Our unique and popular facility, the century-old Phoenix Theater in the heart of downtown Petaluma, is an incredible (and fully-owned) asset which allows participants to gain real life experience in developing, promoting, and presenting art and music shows, guided by mentors who are working professionals in those fields.
We have had wonderful success in our programs to date. Some of our accomplishments include:
• Serving over 800 youth in our health clinic each year, for whom traditional health services are not an option
• Providing free after-school music tutoring, music education, instruments and practice space to over 50 youth a week.
• Organized youth and community rock, jazz, and acoustic jam sessions twice a week. These are drop-in groups, and often include parents playing alongside their kids.
• Coordinating guest-artist projects to local youth, such as our bench design project with world-renowned artist David Best, or our ceramics mask workshop with local Artist Suanne Sher.
• Supporting 30-40 local graffiti artists by providing legal walls for their multi-colored murals.
• Providing a safe environment for 30-50 teens per day after school where they play music, create art, skate on our indoor ramps, work on homework, and relax with their friends.
• Offering performances attended by 2500 local patrons a month, which bring a diversity of live music and performance art to the community in a safe, drug and alcohol-free venue.
• Offering our stage, free of charge, to local schools, community groups and agencies for dozens of events, performances and meetings.
This coming year, the Phoenix School of Music adds three new programs to our regular offering of tutoring, open jams, and practice space.
• “From Garage to Stage” gives young musicians a guided hands-on tour into the music industry. Participants “learn by doing” all aspects of a major venue concert: Booking, Rehearsing, Promoting, Sound Engineering, Stage Management, Day-of Theater Operations, Performance and Business Follow up. The course runs for 12-15 weekly sessions, and will culminate in an end-of-semester weekend performance at the Phoenix.
• “Phoenix Radio” students uses the new Phoenix Media Center to create and broadcast radio journalism. They assemble, edit, and post podcasts, and broadcast shows over a live internet feed. It offers young local bands and musicians a means to promote their art to a wider audience, and raise public awareness of Phoenix programs and events. The Phoenix Radio Team will learn the ins and outs of the radio business: interviewing; current events reporting; managing incoming materials and play lists; and editing recorded programs with the latest software.
• “Phoenix Studios” puts young musicians in a fully equipped recording studio with seasoned professionals, learning the art of recording: engineering, mic placement, editing, multi-tracking, mixing and mastering. The kids will leave with not only career skills, but high quality recordings of their own music. We’ll offer the studio to the community at large for nominal fees, and create the basis for a Phoenix Theater Record label, giving students further experience with the recording business and possible income for the Phoenix Center.
The Phoenix Art Program similarly provides rich opportunities for expression, for both personal satisfaction and the real life experience needed to become a professional artist.
• “Art Out”: Local artists and high school art faculty provide mentoring and workshops in a variety of media and techniques. Our community partnerships give students opportunities to create art, interact with galleries and artists, and design and promote their art shows. Current projects include “Day of the Dead” exhibits in conjunctions with the Petaluma Arts Council, dedicated Phoenix Art space at the Aqus Café and public graffiti art murals in partnership with local businesses and community organizations.
• “Phoenix Photojournalism” provides an overview of the fundamentals of photography and photographic terminology. Visiting local photographers will hold workshops to demonstrate specific techniques and provide feedback on student portfolios, which students will post on the Phoenix website. For those who show the ability, interest, and commitment, we’ll arrange internship/assistant positions with local photographers and publications.
Common to all our programs is our manner of governance, and the Phoenix Theater itself. We take great efforts, from formal committee participation to continuous informal conversation by onsite staff, to engage Phoenix youth in the design, development and implementation of our programs, cultivating leadership and teamwork skills they’ll need for success and fulfillment later in life. And our historic and colorful setting provides unique opportunities for exciting, real-world work: on-stage and back-stage photographic and journalistic access to local and national bands, music performance and engineering experiences offered nowhere else. The many talents of our staff and volunteers are boosted by the innate appeal of Petaluma’s beloved Phoenix.