Celebrating the Legacy of Performing Arts for Kids (PAK) and the Education Initiative

Founding members of Performing Arts for Kids with Dean and Executive Director Rick Davis, including (Top L-R) Penny Barrows, Claire Machosky-Ullman, Sue Farris; (Bottom) Mary Postma with Rick Davis

You may have heard the phrase “learners of all ages.” At the Hylton Performing Arts Center, we witness learning manifested every day through the work of the Education Initiative which has served approximately 157,000 artists, arts students, and patrons of the arts from the very young to the young at heart. Supported through the Performing Arts for Kids Fund, the Education Initiative has grown from field trip performance collaborations to a year-round program that offers free arts education experiences for students, teachers, and lifelong learners. Its early beginnings and funding also hail from multi-generational roots led by the nonprofit Performing Arts for Kids which celebrates 10 years since its founding this season.

Performing Arts for Kids (PAK) was founded in 2013 as a 501c3 charitable organization with a vision to support educational performances and programs at the Hylton Center and beyond. Founded by longtime Hylton Center volunteers and supporters, Mary Postma and Claire Machosky-Ullman, PAK was a volunteer-led effort run by a dedicated corps of individuals, many of whom had former careers in education which afforded them a unique understanding of the needs and challenges of students and educators alike. That initial group of volunteers and familiar faces at the Hylton Center included Penny Barrows, Nadine Bishop, Leah Brogdon, Sue Farris, Gail Petty, and Judy Smith, to name a few. 

“When I was teaching, I loved taking my students on field trips to Lincoln Center in New York City and different cultural venues on Long Island…” shared Machosky-Ullman “…and I said to Mary [Postma] ‘We have to do something where we can bring children into this beautiful [Hylton] Center; it will blow them away.”

Through fundraising, grants, corporate sponsorships, and commemorative ornament sales, PAK raised funds to bring education-focused programming to the Hylton Center with artists and ensembles including Time for Three, A Place to Be, field trip performances with Manassas Ballet Theatre, Technical Theater Boot Camp scholarships, and teacher appreciation initiatives.

In reflecting on a favorite performance given by local organization, A Place to Be, Postma recalled a post-performance conversation between two young patrons. “A child made a profound statement, and all the other children around him heard the statement.” Postma observed further, “It’s not just about what’s happening on stage— it’s what happening right there in the audience.”

That legacy of conversation and deeper engagement with the arts beyond the stage lives on in the Education Initiative today. This can be seen in the increased volume of masterclasses, workshops, and curriculum-integrated programming developed in partnership with the Prince William County, City of Manassas, and City of Manassas Park School Systems, as well as the surrounding counties, private schools, and homeschool groups.

In 2019, Performing Arts for Kids was formally incorporated into the Membership Committee of the Hylton Center, which oversees the Friends of the Hylton Center volunteer and donor program. As such, it was established that 10% of all Friends of the Hylton Performing Arts Center memberships would be dedicated to educational programming at the Hylton Center. Furthermore, a fund was established within the George Mason University Foundation entitled “Performing Arts for Kids at the Hylton Center.” This new fund is dedicated to supporting Education Initiative programming for all ages.

The legacy of Performing Arts for Kids has been memorialized through the naming of “the PAK Hub”—a suite of practice rooms in the Education and Rehearsal Wing. This space, generously named by Claire Machosky-Ullman and Al Ullman is home to student artists as they practice their craft and perfect their art, and fosters a sense of creativity and belonging. Ongoing support for the Education Initiative is provided in part by Mary Postma’s aunt, Lillian Ballard, who was inspired to offer her support after volunteering to help prepare Hylton Center commemorative ornaments for purchase.

Performing Arts for Kids (PAK) Hub 

Machosky-Ullman shared, “This year’s ornament especially touches my heart; it represents all that PAK and the Education Initiative have accomplished and how it will continue to serve future generations of students. I hope seeing the school bus [design] touches the hearts of all who see it, and that it generates a spark, so others know how much the Hylton Center does to enrich students’ lives.” Postma concurred, “It makes us all feel like we did a good thing.” 

Since its inception, the Hylton Center Education Initiative has used the arts to impact the lives of members of our community from Pre-K through adult learners, students in public, private, and homeschool communities, members of Lifelong Learning, and teachers and educators of all kinds. In 2019, the Education Initiative expanded beyond the walls of the Hylton Center and brought programming into the schools through workshops (starting with LA DAMA percussion ensemble), as well as virtual workshops and field trips brought on by necessity during the pandemic. Virtual program offerings have since proved popular and continue to be in high demand due to their ability to accommodate the demanding schedules of teachers and students.

During the 2022–2023 season, the Education Initiative—led by Education Coordinator Marit Majeske, and in coordination with the Hylton Center Education Committee—hosted more than 33 events, including field trip performances, workshops, masterclasses, and backstage tours.

“As a graduate of Prince William County Schools, Kindergarten through Grade 12, I am thrilled that we are able to offer such diverse artistic experiences to local students,” shared Majeske. “The fact that the Education Initiative has grown to also include adult learners to the spectrum of learners we reach is also very exciting. The Education Initiative would not have been possible without the visionary work of the founders of PAK, and for that we are eternally grateful.”

Last year’s season highlights also included the Hylton’s first Artist-in-Residence program with Zydeco legend, Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience, who provided eight classes, performances, and an in-home Creole cooking class! That same year, the Hylton Center Education Initiative was formally recognized by the Prince William County Arts Council during the Kathleen K. Seefeldt Awards as a nominee for its outstanding impact on arts education in the Prince William County community.

The Education Initiative is supported 100% by philanthropy, and the Hylton Center is grateful to lead sponsor Amazon Web Services, as well as the Friends of the Hylton Center, Lillian Ballard, The McNichols Family Foundation, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and SPARK, as well as to the many individual and corporate donors who support the Initiative’s work every day.

Interested in supporting the work of the Education Initiative? Here are multiple ways you can make a difference: