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Young Audiences of Western New York, the organization founded a half-century ago to bring classical music into local schools, has been having a heck of a golden anniversary.

Last year, with help from the John R. Oishei Foundation and other backers, it moved to the second floor of the Central Library and launched an ambitious regional arts education program called Arts Partners for Learning. After a series of popular 50th anniversary events over the past year, the organization’s work in the community has never been more visible.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the group will cap off its yearlong anniversary celebration with a fundraising auction at the Tapestry Charter School. The event, whose honorary chair is the active local collector and artist Gerald Mead, will feature work by local artists as well as some who have gone on to larger fame.

The money raised from Saturday’s event – Young Audiences Director Cynnie Gaasch says the group hopes to raise $20,000 – will go into a fund to help schools create and build their own arts programming by providing matching funding.

During the past decade or so, Young Audiences’ approach to arts education has evolved beyond bringing the occasional performer to an assembly program. Now, with its various programs, the organization is working to develop more meaningful and long-term connections with local students.

“I would say that the number of students we’re connecting with isn’t different, but the length of time we’re spending with them has changed,” Gaasch said. “We’re not necessarily making them experts. We’re not making them artists. But we’re helping them to be comfortable in the arts, and to participate in the arts and to not be afraid of them. You can do that much more successfully when you see them over and over again.”

Among its many new programs, Young Audiences recently launched a collaboration with Erie County’s mental health and youth services departments to provide troubled teens with arts education in its home at the Central Library. Its ongoing partnership with students at McKinley High School, where Young Audiences artists visit twice weekly during the school year, has been a marked success.

And the formation of Arts Partners for Learning – a group that formed last year to foster and strengthen existing arts education programs and to spread the arts education gospel across Western New York – has been successful as well. It is also overseeing a project called Grant Street Global Voices, a community mural project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that involves Buffalo State College, Buffalo Public Schools and Grant Street residents and businesses.

Next year, Young Audiences will launch a mini-grant program in which schools can apply to host programs created by Arts Partners for Learning members and a new partnership with the Buffalo Arts and Technology Center. The organization, volunteer-run for most of its 50 years, now has six staffers, a healthy board and a budget that expands by the year.

And as for the next 50 years?

“We want to expand the number of children who are having short-term experiences, we want to expand the number of children who are having long-term experiences and we want to create programming where we’re working with young people for multiple years and having a major impact on their ability to be successful in the world.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com