Thousands of participants, Hundreds of volunteers. And 25 years of showcasing the talents of Creston Valley youth. It is impossible to measure the impact of the Focus on Youth since it began 25 years ago.
“For literally thousands of kids that have performed in Focus on Youth for 25 years, this is their only performance on a professional stage with professional lights and sound,” said Lynn Johnson, who co-ordinates the annual event with Laura From. “It might be the only chance in their lifetime. Many have gone on to careers in the arts — really, quite a large number.”
Details of the first few events are distant memories, but records kept since 1988 reflect a commitment by educators and arts supporters to, well, put the focus on youth for a week each spring.
Next week’s event is the 25th, and it will be marked by dedicating the first concert, on Monday, to former Creston mayor Lela Irvine.
“She was the first VIP I invited to MC,” said Johnson, a retired school music teacher who has participated for 22 years. “She was so excited and enthusiastic that I asked her to MC the first concert every time.”
That evening’s concert, hosted by School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) trustee Mel Joy, will be followed by a gala reception.
Several Focus on Youth alumni will take part in the evening concerts, including Johnson’s daughters, Laura and Rita, on Thursday, the only performers who also participated in the first year.
Organizers in 1988 included Lawrence and Margaret Lavender, Monte Anderson, Glenna Taylor and Jo Anne Knobbe. That year saw the creation of the “Philosophy of Focus on Youth in the Visual and Performing Arts”:
“Performance in the performing arts, and displaying of the visual arts are both part of the creative process. It is our belief that young people must have the opportunity for these aspects of the creative process, and it is the responsibility of adult society to provide them. Although competition in the arts may have its place, it may result in negative self-worth or discontinuance of further training by the majority of students who never win awards. For this reason we have elected to stress participation and recognition.”
The 1988 Focus on Youth week was co-sponsored by the Community Arts Council of Creston and the former School District No. 86 (Creston-Kaslo). An information sheet from that year credits the Creston arts council, Monte Anderson and Jo Anne Knobbe with organizing the first Focus on Youth event in November of 1986. It was held in the Holy Cross Catholic Hall and featured ten performances in the performing arts, featuring mainly piano, vocal, violin and drama students. More than 700 people attended the performances. Art displays were included, as they will be this year, housed at the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce from Monday to Thursday.
Suggested activities and displays for the 1988 event included paintings, sketches, silk screens and graphics; ceramics, crafts and penmanship; movies and photography; drama, mime, puppetry, marionettes and magic acts; readings, recitations and/or displays of prose and poetry, monologues and speeches, choral speaking, instrumental solos and ensembles, choirs and vocal solos and ensembles, classroom ensembles, storytelling, and dance solos and ensembles.
Lawrence Lavender chaired that year’s Focus on Youth executive, which also included Knobbe, Taylor, Anderson, Andy Stuart-Hill and Bruce Richter. A four-page pullout section in the Creston Valley Advance featured articles about Focus on Youth and the science fair, with greetings from former mayor Lela Irvine and school board chair Shelagh Leathwood.
Included in the performance schedules were Karl Sommerfeld, Catherine McMac-kin, Brooke Comfort, Linda Riehl, Alexis and Nicholas Nilsson, Daniel Huscroft, Jennifer Elford, Miriam Anderson, Jordan Catherall, Joanne Endicott, Tara Bourdon, Velle Huscroft, Sarah Kapoor, Meaghan and Lara Brierley, Zav Huscroft, Amy Lavender, Emily Pridham, Carrie and Christi Peel, Karina Verhoeven, Shandi Miller, Kody Zander, Marnie Sonntag, Sylvia Alfoldy, Naiches Armstrong, Jess Wilson, Jalene Ek, Angela Waldie and many more. Recognize any of those names?
In the ensuing years, Focus on Youth gained strength and became a local institution. Through thick and thin and cutbacks in education funding, volunteers kept their focus clearly on the young performers of the Creston Valley.
In 1996, 10 years after the first event, Focus on Youth featured 17 concerts with more than 1,000 students participating. The art show at the community complex had become a popular attraction. Margaret Lavender and Rita Macdonnell coordinated the showcase.
For the 20th anniversary, former mayor Joe Snopek was photographed as he signed a proclamation for Focus on Youth Week. Margaret Lavender and Laura Strom appeared with him in the photo. Performing arts were presented in Prince Charles Auditorium and the rec centre played host to the visual arts displays and a special opening event.
This year, with more than a quarter century of students, volunteers and audiences having enjoyed the annual celebration of youth and the arts, Focus on Youth will feature a full schedule of performances and displays. (Complete information is included on pages 16, 17, 20 and 21 of this issue.)
With 25 years behind the organizers, Johnson is looking forward to many more Focus on Youth weeks to come.
“I’ve seen the deterioration of arts supports in schools,” said Johnson. “Having been a music teacher, I’m very keen to see it continue. …
“Seeing the huge variety and creativity of teachers is my biggest joy, and seeing over the years the improvement in the skills of individual performers.”
With thanks to Frank Goodsir, compiler of the wonderful Focus on Youth archives.