UPTOWN! Entertainment Alliance is a non-profit organization promoting cultural, economic, and civic life experiences in our community through live theater, music, dance, film and other local events in the heart of West Chester, Pennsylvania’s historic district.
Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center is located in downtown West Chester, PA. The theater has nine resident companies with three separate performance spaces. Uptown! holds a local TEDx license, hosts a monthly Speaker Series, an Adventure Travel Film program and an annual Singer Songwriter competition. In addition, Uptown! also hosts the West Chester Studio for the Performing Arts and is able to offer lessons, classes and summer camps to K-12 students. The theater also enjoys a partnership with the YMCA a half a block away, the West Chester Area School District serving as a venue for student orchestra and choral concerts and enjoys an onsite education program with St. Agnes School two blocks away. With over 50 performing arts organizations within a 10-mile radius, the theater is fast becoming a home for groups such as the Concordia Chorus, Brandywine Singers, Brandywine Ballet and Balance Dance Company.
Six years ago four friends discussing their desire for a theater in downtown West Chester came together to form Uptown! Entertainment Alliance. It moved from a group of friends to a fully functioning board with committees, to build the groundwork needed to achieve its goal of bringing theatre to West Chester. With the help of elected officials, Uptown! focused on the National Guard Armory centrally located in downtown West Chester as an option for a theater. In May 2015 the Governor signed a bill allowing Uptown! to purchase the Armory from the Commonwealth for $760,000. A capital campaign was launched and $4.2 million was raised to purchase, preserve and renovate the Armory as a Theater for film and live performance!
In May 2016, Uptown! broke ground and began renovating the vacant Armory building. The 14,300 square foot three story structure had one working toilet, a 1970’s furnace, no air-conditioning or handicapped access. Over nine months the building was brought back to its original floor plan and accessibility was added inside and out. From the main drill hall, Uptown! created a 327 seat main stage theater. The upstairs level now boasts a performance space for 100. On the lower level there is another performance and educational space as well as a classroom. Green rooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms are also on the lower level of the building. In June 2016 a gift was received from the Knauer family renaming the theater as the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center. The building opened with a New Year’s Eve Gala for 500 people.
The opening of the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center on December 31, 2016 was a transformational moment for West Chester. The creation of a cultural hub right in the downtown historic district, walking distance from local neighborhoods and schools as well as restaurants and shopping, makes the theater – and downtown West Chester – a prime destination for individuals and families from across the region.
Over the last six years the founders have come to understand that bringing a theater to West Chester was more than a dream of a small group of people. It is need and desire of a community – one that extended beyond the Borough of West Chester. Leadership, passion, dedication, and commitment from many people and organizations have driven our success in fundraising and now serve as our audience.
Now in April 2017, Uptown! is in full swing as events begin on the new theater’s three stages with events from its eight Resident Companies and the West Chester Studio for the Performing Arts. There are also rentals booked from businesses, non-profits and arts organizations.
In recent years the center of West Chester has undergone a great revitalization. A diverse and historic community of commercial and residential homes and businesses, there are now a wide variety of boutiques and shops and over 80 dining opportunities that serve local residents and draw tourists and people from the surrounding area into the historic downtown. With the demolition of the Warner Theater in 1986, this project was a unique opportunity to bring a public theater back to the town center.
A core value of Uptown! Entertainment Alliance is to reach underserved communities in and around West Chester. The most recent census details West Chester with 71% Caucasian 12% African American, 13.5% Hispanic and 3% Asian origin. With the jazz, theater, Latin, music, dance and film programming reflecting the rich diversity of the community we serve, Community tickets and Scholarships will ensure our students and audiences reflect our community as well.
Scholarships are offered to West Chester Studio for the performing arts classes and summer camp. Uptown! works with the YMCA and the St. Agnes School to award scholarship for performing arts summer camp to students who would otherwise be unable to afford such an experience. This year seven scholarships have been awarded.
Uptown!’s Community Ticket Program is administered through community partners such as the St. Agnes School, the YMCA and Chester County Fund for Women & Girls. Uptown distributes complementary or low cost tickets to events at the theater to families. Since the theater opened in January 2017, 104 Community Tickets have been used for performances at the theater.
Uptown! continues to solicit individual gifts to support its programming and ongoing renovations to its 100 year old building as well as to support programming, community tickets and scholarships for summer camp.
A theater for live performances and film in historic downtown West Chester offers a common destination for people of diverse backgrounds as well as an outlet for creative expression and personal growth and educational opportunities for all ages. People living in West Chester or those coming into town for dinner or shopping now have a complementary option to combine a performance or film experience. The new theater will have a tremendous long-term economic and cultural impact on area businesses and residents as well as on the historic center of West Chester.
From Benjamin Franklin and the National Guard, the Armory Building has made its mark on history and will continue to do so as the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center.