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At a time when arts education is facing an unclear future, Tina Knowles-Lawson and actor Richard Lawson have officially opened the doors to their WACO Theater Center (Where Art Can Occur) in an effort to keep the arts accessible to all.
After Knowles-Lawson’s daughters Beyonce and Solange co-chaired a star-studded inaugural Wearable Art fundraiser for the theater in April — which featured Magic Johnson, Octavia Spencer, Kris Jenner, Samuel L. Jackson and Arianna Huffington among other guests — the Lawsons kicked off the grand opening weekend of the center Friday with a private reception.
The cast of Detroit, longtime family friend and artist Kelly Rowland and actress Vanessa Bell Calloway were among the family, friends and supporters of the initiative that celebrated the opening of the theater center filled with rotating art exhibits and a space that will house performances, mentorship programs and workshops. The celebration continued throughout the weekend with the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to award-winning theater director Woodie King Jr. as well as screenings and a staged reading from veteran actors of The Talented Tenth, by Richard Wesley.
The Knowles-Lawson and Lawson, longtime friends who have been married for over two years, both reconnected through their dedication to arts education. Tina originally was searching for a place to open an arts community center in Texas, while Richard — an actor who has been a teacher for more than 30 years — had an agenda for arts outreach as well. The two realized they had the same dream.
Richard says the center was “something that fell together naturally. Even though we were doing it separately it was really driven by the same purpose which is to make a difference and help other people — especially kids — to change their lives.”
Both Knowles-Lawson’s and Lawson’s mentorship programs “Tina’s Angels” for girls and “Richard’s Warriors” for boys will continue to play a significant part in the theater center. The programs support young kids between ages 13 and 15, with “Tina’s Angels” equipping girls with etiquette training, professional development, exposure to the arts, trips to see performances such as Alvin Ailey productions (where Beyonce made an appearance) and visits from “honorary angels” in the entertainment world.
“We just felt like it’s such a time that you need to mentor these young people and try to encourage them and he believes in using art so this is really important to us,” said Knowles-Lawson.
In addition to the mentorship programs, the WACO theater is planning on expanding with a Mobile Arts Theater Season where traveling cargo vans will set up a theater space in local L.A. communities for weekends of diverse entertainment.
“It’s been a vision of hers for years, so to see it flourish today I’m so excited for her,” said Rowland as she arrived at the grand opening. Rowland, who is a part of the theater center’s advisory board along with Beyonce, Solange and Queen Sugar actress Bianca Lawson hopes to get more involved with the kids who will be using the center and shared her main piece of advice for young aspiring artists is to “listen to their gut.”
“They are smarter than they think. They are greatness,” said Rowland. “They have to find what they are passionate about. What wakes you up in the morning. What is the thing that gives you joy every day and completes you as a person.”
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