Smarts Celebrates Transition into New Home

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Reporters had just been handed the press release that Students Motivated by the Arts had reached its goal set a year ago of raising $750,000 when Becky Keck informed them she had something to add.

They were gathered on the first floor of the Ohio One Building to view Smarts’ new downtown home.

A few minutes earlier, Jan Strasfeld, executive director of the Youngstown Foundation, had asked Keck, “Did I tell you yet?”

Then she told Keck, executive director of Smarts, that the foundation’s Monday Musical Fund had contributed $17,000 to support the Yamaha Piano Lab in its new home, adding that sum to the total donated.

“That piano lab will change everything in the pedagogy of the teaching of music education in this facility,” Keck told reporters. “I can’t tell you how transformational that is.”

Joined by more than 100 guests and supporters Thursday morning, Keck and her staff celebrated the arts education program’s new headquarters.

The $750,000 Smarts raised covers renovation of the space, a five-year lease, two full-time staff for programming and a small endowment for future needs, the news release said.

Yesterday completed Smarts’ 40-month transition to the community, Keck said. That transition began when Youngstown State University discontinued funding the program where it was born.

“Good things can happen in the Mahoning Valley,” Keck said. “Smarts is proof that good begets good, and truth and justice will always prevail.”

Over the past 12 months, businesses, foundations and individuals – 135 in all – made either cash or in-kind gifts, Smarts spokeswoman Greta Mittereder reported. She also said of the 20 opportunities for naming rights, 10 had been taken, and the remaining 10, totaling $735,000 remain available.

Keck dismissed the standing ovation accorded her as she approached the podium to offer concluding remarks. “The standing ovation was not for me. It was for you, because it’s people just like you — and many of you – that’s made this happen,” she said.

Earlier, just before cutting the ribbon outside to kick off the program, Keck, her voice choked with emotion, credited Ohio One Corp. and its president, Richard Mills, for their role. “This day would not have happened” without their support, she said. “They have believed in us for the last 40 months.”

Ohio One is “not just a landlord” but a partner in Smarts’ transition, Mittereder affirmed.

Keck was particularly pleased that she could incorporate so many of the space’s original features, including counters used when Ohio Edison occupied the space, and light fixtures, although now equipped with LED lighting and motion sensors to help save energy.

Several officials offered remarks in support of Keck and Smarts, including the mayors of the Mahoning Valley’s two largest cities, John McNally of Youngstown and Doug Franklin of Warren.

In Warren, Smarts operates Any Given Child – a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – in collaboration with Warren City Schools.

“I can tell you firsthand the difference it has made in young people’s lives,” Franklin said. “Art is a true motivator. It really brings out the best in our young people.”

“Truly the Smarts program is a labor of love for Becky,” McNally said, and noted the emotion in Keck’s voice when she spoke. “She has worked endlessly and relentlessly to make sure that her dream of bringing the Smarts program to the Ohio One Building came true. … We can’t wait to see more and more children coming down here every single day.”

Smarts will partner with the city parks department and the Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center to add Smarts programming for city residents in grades three through six. “These children will be the first in our community to enjoy this new facility,” Mittereder said.

Huntington National Bank has several “very substantial foundations and these foundations have caught the spirit of Smarts,” David Sabine, senior vice president and trust officer, said. At least three of those funds contributed to Smarts, he said.

State Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan and John Boccieri presented Smarts with a resolution from the Ohio House of Representatives.

With even affluent school districts cutting visual arts and music programs today, Smarts’ role as a community arts school is more relevant than ever, Mittereder said.

Pictured at top: Mayor John McNally and Ohio One Corp.’s Rich Mills help Becky Keck cut the ribbon.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.