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What’s next for Forsyth County’s new arts and learning center
FoCAL will officially open in November, and district leaders are planning a grand opening for Dec. 5.

Currently the director of secondary education, Dawn Phipps spoke to the Board of Education for the first time Tuesday as the upcoming Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center Director to provide an update on what she envisions for the performing arts venue.

Phipps will be officially taking over in the position in July when current Denmark High School Principal Heather Gordy takes over as the new director of secondary education.

“Thank you to Dr. Bearden and the entire board for entrusting me with this position,” Phipps said. “I am overwhelmed and super honored to lead this new adventure.”

Describing what she hopes for the future of FoCAL, she believes the building should be a venue for all kinds of music, theater and entertainment; for fine arts learning both for kids and adults; for showcasing local talent; for schools and communities to host their events; and for enriching the lives of students.

To make that happen, Phipps has been part of planning for the opening of the building. She said they first began with focus groups to discuss with teachers, school leaders, parents and different community members what FoCAL should be and what it should offer to the community.

Now, with construction finishing within the year, they are also working with others to secure fixtures, furniture and equipment for the unique space.

She recently began an advisory council made up of school, fine arts and community members to help in the design of FoCAL’s mission, vision and goals for the future. They also offer feedback in planning for volunteer and sponsorship programs and community outreach.

Phipps said what they are really focusing on, however, is programming for FoCAL. One of her key goals for the building is to make it part of Forsyth County Schools curriculum.

“We want it to be a tool that is used for things that we already have established obviously in the area of fine arts, but I think we also have a unique opportunity when we look at how that facility can partner with other types of education and curriculum outside of fine arts,” Phipps said.

She is considering partnering with Career and Technical programs at county schools to give students an opportunity to gain experience in marketing, hospitality and management through event planning at the venue.

Outside of school, Phipps also hopes to offer programs for kids and adults alike. She mentioned hosting a guest speaker series, summer musical programs and even welcoming outside programming for the community to enjoy.

Planning to partner with fine arts organizations and businesses in the area, Phipps said different groups could use the space to put on plays, concerts and more. They also plan to offer it for community rentals for private or community events.

“[This] I think is right in line with our vision of FoCAL being the focal point to bring the community together, and I’m just excited to see some of these events where the community is going to come here and watch the talent of the kids and students we have in the community,” Board of Education Vice Chair Wes McCall said.

The center will include a black box theater with seating for 200 guests, rehearsal rooms, dressing and green rooms, a catering kitchen and a lobby or gallery space.

Phipps said FoCAL will officially open in November, but she anticipates they will only host a few events to work out any kinks before the grand opening event scheduled for Dec. 5.

“We are ‘focused’ now on FoCAL,” Phipps told the board.