20 September 2022
In the Spotlight: Joan Benjamin & Laurence Cherkis
You are both long-standing supporters of the performing arts. What inspired this commitment?
We relocated to Arizona and wanted to continue our practice of supporting the performing arts. We came to realize Ballet Arizona is an institution of national quality, and reputation, and is a cultural treasure that deserves all the support we can provide.
We are impressed by the way in which the ballet has bridged the divide between an exceptional cultural institution and the general community which it serves. Through its several community programs, it has become part of its broader cultural environment rather than standing apart from it.
Because of you, our Class Act program is fully funded for the first time ever! What sparked your passion for arts education?
We have supported a program that provides musical instruments and instruction to a substantial number of children, starting in grade school and continuing through high school. It is extraordinarily successful and has been life-changing for many of these kids. Several of them have gone on to further their musical education in higher institutions of learning — something that probably would not have happened without their participation in the program.
We believe that the Class Act program can result in similar outcomes. We are not saying it will produce a slate of premier dancers (though you never know!) but it will expose students to cultural experiences and opportunities they probably would not have had otherwise. There is so much upside potential out there — we just need to give it a chance to flourish!
How do you see the role of the arts in our communities?
Every community has its own history and culture, which is represented in part by the art that it produces. The role of the arts in our communities is, among other things, to expose each person to that history and culture in order to provide a sense of participation in the society in which that community functions.
… about Class Act
As one of Ballet Arizona’s oldest educational programs, Class Act provides children in local schools the opportunity to dance, choreograph, and perform for a live audience. For three weeks, students from four schools across the Valley, learn from our company dancers and create their own dance using classical ballet technique that culminates in performances for their families and communities on the Ballet Under the Stars stage.
The program plays a vital role in the ever-changing landscape of arts education. Class Act gives children the opportunity to discover new and creative ways of thinking, connect with their peers, and engage with the world around them through dance and choreography. Students are encouraged to use their imagination in an environment that builds their confidence and cultivates their team-building skills.
This year, a combined 100 students from McDowell Mountain Elementary in Fountain Hills, Don Mensendick School in Glendale, Wilson Elementary in Phoenix, and Estrella Mountain Elementary in Goodyear, received firsthand experience of how possibility can become reality, a necessary lesson for our future dreamers, thinkers, and innovators.