Chances are very good that anyone living in or around Willoughby has seen a show or taken a class at the Fine Arts Association at one time or another.
With all the arts under one roof, the Fine Arts Association is a 60-year tradition in Willoughby, offering lessons in music, theater, dance and visual arts for people of all ages and abilities. They also present a variety of live theater and concerts. From putting on popular Broadway shows to relaxed outdoor summer concerts, the FAA brings audiences together for year-round entertainment.
Each year, nearly 60,000 people
sign up for classes at the FAA main campus in Willoughby as well as at 75 off-site arts programming at schools, hospitals, senior centers and more in four counties.
A Family Affair
The Fine Arts Association offers programs for arts lovers of all ages, so it is not unusual to find a second- or third-generation of family members taking advantage of one of the programs. Such is the case with the Principe family.
“The arts are integral to life,” says Laurie Principe. “Arts programs are so valuable and teach so much more than just art. It also is a great place for teens to find their niche.”
Her husband, Roger, did his first theater show at the center in 1974 in a production of The Taming of the Shrew and has been in countless shows since.
It was not too long after the Principes’ twin boys, Tony and Jeff, were born that they started spending time at Fine Arts, too. Both boys took classes and later even worked maintenance jobs at the center.
Principe, who was development director at FAA from 1999 to 2007, remembers those years fondly.
“It was a very special time,” she says. “People [at FAA] became our lifelong friends. Our kids could say the same thing. It impacts your life in so many wonderful ways.”
Rounding out the third-generation of Principe family members is granddaughter, Willow, who takes theater and art classes, along with Autumn, who takes hip-hop dance.
As colorful as the FAA itself, so is the story of its founder, Jim Savage, and his wife, Louise, who died in 2015. After serving in WWII and overcoming a bout with polio, Savage, a graduate of Cleveland Institute of Music, had a dream of creating a vibrant arts haven. He called it his “dream dilemma.”
He founded his first musical arts studio in Willoughby in 1957, which doubled as a home to the couple and their children.
“We packed all the children into a downstairs bedroom. During the day this attractive living room doubled as a studio — complete with a grand piano. This left one upstairs room vacant. It soon became both a guest room and a second studio. Our new home quickly came alive with students singing and playing strings and horns. Behold! The Musical Arts Studio was born!”
The day finally came when this Musical Arts Studio/home was overflowing, and a new location was quickly found. A church just a few blocks away was selling a mid-century, two-story house. With much scrubbing, sanding, painting and cleaning, the Savages made this their new art center in 1968. Soon it became a true nonprofit arts center as a board of trustees was formed.
In 1972, they would make one final move to the current building on the sprawling campus of Andrews Osborne Academy in Willoughby.
Savage finally solved his “dream dilemma.”
“It is and continues to be a successful solution to my Dilemma Dream and to the fact that people working together can make the seemingly impossible really happen.”
Savage, now in his mid-90s, continues to live in Willoughby and give piano lessons.
FAA also offers arts programming far beyond its Willoughby campus. They project that their services reach 60,000 people at the main campus and 75 off-site locations throughout Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga and Ashtabula counties.
These off-site services reach several public schools systems, Lake Metroparks and Breckenridge Village Retirement Community, just to name a few. One of their bigger off-site programs is a music therapy program at Lake Health Hospital. (FAA also offers a variety of art therapy programs on their main campus for people with disabilities. Scholarships are available for families who qualify.)
FAA reports that demand has never been higher for these off-site services, largely due to cuts in arts programs throughout the region.
A 5,200-square-foot addition to the center will be completed this year as part of the anniversary celebration. The new space will include an art gallery, new art classroom, new restrooms and two multi-purpose rooms. It is the culmination of a $3.5 million capital campaign, and the new spaces are set to open in August.
“This addition was a long time coming,” explains Linda Wise, chief executive officer.
FAA sits on the campus of Andrews Osborne Academy, a K-12 private school located on 300 acres in Willoughby. Prior to the construction, both organizations shared a driveway. As part of the renovations, separate entrances were already built.
“The new driveway gives us greater visibility, easier access and less confusion,” say Wise. “It’s exciting and it positions us for the future. Now, we can accommodate more requests for new classes that have been in demand.”