If you spend some time with the superintendent of the Altoona Area School District and do not come away feeling energized about the potential for the city, perhaps someone should call 911. You might not have a pulse.
Doctor Charles Prijatelj passionately believes that the time is now for everyone to work together to rejuvenate Altoona. He is among many local leaders who recognize that the arts enhance the community and that there is value in the city being a cultural hub.
“The arts enrich everyone’s lives,” he stated. “Those skills and cultures create a climate and culture which is nurturing for our young people and is enriching for our adults. It takes us above the normal, everyday mundane, and it adds value.”
The school district is one of several businesses and organizations that are partnering with ArtsAltoona, which seeks to connect all aspects of the region’s vibrant cultural community.
The collaboration between the Altoona Area School District and ArtsAltoona seems to be a natural fit. As students settle into this new academic year, the district boasts a curriculum that includes art and music classes and offerings such as chorus, band, jazz ensemble, and orchestra.
A former music teacher and band director in the Mars Area School District in Butler County, Doctor Prijatelj knows the value of the arts in education. He noted that just as a school must nourish a student’s mind in reading, writing, science, and math, a school must also nourish a student’s soul through the arts.
“(Students) have to have the creativity, be well-rounded, and have an understanding of culture,” he added.
Beyond the classroom, what seems to excite Doctor Prijatelj so much about working with ArtsAltoona is the opportunity for many people to come together for the good of the city.
He is encouraged by some of the positive changes that he sees happening. Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico is to be commended for creating a renaissance in the city, he commented. He also credited UPMC, Norfolk Southern, and other businesses for creating opportunities and driving the region’s economic engine.
“What’s really going to pull it all together is the culture and community,” stressed Doctor Prijatelj.
Change is not always easy, he conceded, but the key is being open to what can happen when people or groups – already rich in history and tradition – work as a team.
“If we’re going to build a strong Altoona, we have to have a well-rounded community which covers all of our bases,” he emphasized. “When someone new comes to town, they have to see a community that cares about itself.”
There is no question that sports are beloved in Blair County, and the arts, some would argue, seem to take a back seat in the hearts and minds of many. However, as we look toward the future, opportunities in sports and the arts can go hand in hand, Doctor Prijatelj suggested, because both are beneficial to students and others.
“It’s understanding the value of having a WHOLE community experience,” he said. And the time to grow that experience is now, he insisted. “We need to foster the arts and focus on ensuring that all of our kids have all of the opportunities,” he added. “I’m optimistic on Altoona, and I believe ArtsAltoona is a crucial part of that. I see this as an opportunity to create the Altoona we all want to live in.”