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Karen Prasser, Solon Arts Center Director: Names in the News

We talk to Karen Prasser, Executive Director of the Solon Center of the Arts, about arts education, new projects at the center and her favorite artists.

Editor's Note: This is an installment in a regular series called Names in the News. In it, we will feature movers and shakers in the Solon community, both the obvious ones and the less so. Know a person we should feature? Tell us in an e-mail to chrism@patch.com

Karen Prasser makes the arts happen in Solon.

Prasser, the executive director of the since 2003, she's has helped bring the arts to higher prominence in Solon. We asked her some questions so our readers could get to know her better!

Solon Patch: What is your proudest accomplishment during your time as director?

Karen Prasser: Without hesitation -  it’s when CNN’s Money Magazine came out last year , giving the City the #3 ranking in the country. Being a part of SCA from 2003 (not quite the beginning), my main objective, and something I’ve worked hard to achieve, was to incorporate the arts as an integral part of the quality of life in our community – in other words – making the arts (through its arts center) understood, accepted, accessible and valued.

To have the arts (in particular, Solon Philharmonic Orchestra) included with Solon’s outstanding industries, first-class health care and the number one school district in the state as the mosaic that makes Solon great was a huge accomplishment!

Patch: Why is Solon a good community for the arts?

Prasser: Obviously, Solon Center for the Arts has filled a void in the community. Going back 10 years, you can see the growth of the core business of this department of the City – arts education (music, theater, dance and art). If you look at the number of students of all ages registered every year (3,300+) and then combine that with all of the various community offerings that have evolved over the years including Solon Philharmonic Orchestra, Voices of Solon, and Chill n’ Grills (to name a few), SCA serves a broad base of ages and interests.

Like they say, there’s something for everyone!

Patch: The arts center . Why is this an important project?

Prasser: The patio has seen better days! It’s become tired looking and needs some love and attention! Our one shade tree died and had to be removed three years ago. When Bainbridge Road was widened a couple of years ago, the elevation between the street and patio changed. The bricks have become uneven over 10 years and need to be leveled for safety. And, most importantly, the patio is the main entrance to the City’s arts center and should be much more welcoming and reflect the center of town experience.

So from an aesthetic viewpoint, a facelift for the entryway is going to be a tremendous asset on this corner of Bainbridge Road. The other piece of this is purpose – not just as a pass through to the front doors, but as an outdoor venue for a variety of concerts, youth theater performances and art shows in the heart of town. Thanks to University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center, the Corinne Dodero Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, and all of the people who have purchased bricks, this will soon come to fruition.

We’re just about half way on the ‘Pave the Way to SCA’ brick campaign – there’s still time to reserve your personally engraved paver as part of SCA’s new Courtyard!

Patch: Who is your favorite artist? (music visual arts, performance arts, etc. all are game!)

Prasser: I get asked that question all the time! And my answer always is…depends on the day! I recently was introduced to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. They’ve been around for a long while. I saw them on David Letterman one night and was blown away by their musicianship and unique sound. So I’ve become stuck on them.

As far as art – I can tell immediately because I say that “that makes my eyes smile.” It’s whatever hits me whether it’s color or texture or subject. SCA had a wonderful local artist, Henry Fusco, exhibit a couple of times several years ago in the gallery. I love his work. He was exhibiting a new piece he had painted of the Cleveland Orchestra with Maestro Welser-Möst at Severance Hall. The colors were vivid and it was also about music. Needless to say, I purchased it and it’s hanging in my family room.

Then there’s opera – my love of opera is because I spent 17 years traveling as a pianist, coach and conductor throughout the country. I’m so pleased that SCA will be producing Verdi’s masterpiece, La Traviata, in the fall as part of the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grant. Since Cleveland no longer has its two major opera companies, SCA has created quite a following for this art form.

Patch: The arts center offers tons of programming for the children. Why is arts education so important?

Prasser: Studies have proven over the years that involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork.

When I see the children at SCA every day, I am grateful for their parents’ dedication and commitment to their children’s arts education. Not every child grows up to be a Picasso, Baryshnikov, Rubenstein or Kathryn Hepburn! But having the arts as part of a child’s life adds civility and social skills that make them learn better in non-arts disciplines and lead to better workplace skills later in life.

All I can say is – come to SCA and see the students engaging in serious study or drawing just for fun. It can only be for the good! As one of the City’s Councilman recently said following the Solon Philharmonic Orchestra’s final concert of the season featuring the winners of this year’s Annual Young Artists Concert Competition (the winners were ages 16, 17 and 18), “Solon Center for the Arts puts the ‘soul’ in Solon!”

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