Celebrating 70 Years

We celebrate a milestone in Allens Lane Art Center’s history this year, our 70th anniversary! In honor of this landmark year, we will be looking back for inspiration from our past, sharing our values of racial justice and inclusivity in the present, and creating more opportunities to reach out to our diverse communities in the future.

Our Founding: Rooted in Social Justice

The Center was founded on June 23rd, 1953, by a group of Mt. Airy residents, as part of a larger grassroots movement in the 1950s. Through community organizing, Mt. Airy residents sought to fight for racial and economic justice and to build a safe and welcoming neighborhood for a racially diverse community. The founders’ vision for the Allens Lane Arts Center was for all Northwest Philadelphia residents to experience equitable arts and culture opportunities, unite over their shared experiences, and extend this unity beyond the Center to the rest of the neighborhood and city.

September 9, 2023: Mark your Calendar! 

Mark your calendar for our Community Arts Festival to celebrate our 70th anniversary.

Our Present: Brimming with Arts and Culture Offerings

For 70 years, Allens Lane has been fulfilling this vision through year-round visual and performing arts education; our beloved Summer Arts Camp; community theater productions; monthly gallery exhibitions showcasing and supporting the careers of local artists; and free classes in ceramics and mixed media for those experiencing visual impairment.

Our Future Plans: Reaching an Even Larger and More Diverse Community

As we look toward the future, we are excited to plan for expanded community outreach and increased access for all arts and culture seekers in Mt. Airy and the Northwest. We are working on programs to serve our public schools, our senior centers, our parks, and our social service organizations, bringing the arts outside our campus to support our community in places with the most need.

Share your Memories

We are excited to announce a new initiative to collect and preserve the stories and testimonials of the many people who have attended, led, and participated in the center over the past 70 years.

We want to hear from you. Share your memories – and photos! – of Allens Lane and how this impacted your life.

Image: Sidney Poitier visiting Allens Lane Theater’s 1963 production of Lillian Hellman’s A Raisin in the Sun. Front row left to right: Sidney Poitier, Kate Shaffmaster (Artistic Director), Dottie Brown (Ruth Younger), Betty Ward (Lena Younger). Second row: Ed Bernard (Walter Younger).

The names of the rest of the cast are unknown. Please contact Allens Lane Art Center if you have further information about this production. Thanks to Lisa Shaffmaster for the photo and story. 

Celebrating 70 Years of Community Theater: A Letter from the Theater Artistic Director

This year, Allens Lane Art Center is celebrating its 70th anniversary as an institution dedicated to bringing the diverse community of Northwest Philadelphia together through the arts. What has always made the theater at Allens Lane special is its adventurous nature, with productions that are wonderfully eclectic and delightfully challenging to our audiences.

The History of Theater at Allens Lane

Looking back at the history of the theater at Allens Lane, we have plays that are titans in 20th-century American drama such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Death of a Salesman. There are also classic plays from the Greeks and Shakespeare juxtaposed with avant-garde works that were very outside of the box for a community theater: The Bald Soprano, Cloud Nine, Waiting for Godot, and The Balcony to name a select few.

The theater at Allens Lane has from its founding, been dedicated to presenting plays from African-American playwrights who write powerfully about the Black experience in the United States. Notable productions include The River Niger by Joseph A. Walker, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Blues for Mister Charlie by James Baldwin, and for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange.

In 1963, the production of A Raisin in the Sun, had a very special guest in the audience. The Oscar Winning actor, Sidney Poitier, attended the opening night of A Raisin in The Sun, directed by long time Theater Director, Kate Shaffmaster and starring Dottie Brown, Betty Ward, Ed Bernard. Poitier was in Philadelphia promoting a recent film, and after being invited to the opening night at Allens Lane, he came to see the show and posed for pictures with the cast and director.

Coming to the Theater at Allens Lane This Spring: Alice In Wonderland, The Poetic Playground, and Twelfth Night!

In April of 2023, Allens Lane will present a new production of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s tale Alice in Wonderland, created in collaboration with The Hum’n’bards Theater Troupe, which will feature original music and songs.

On April 22nd, in celebration of Jazz month, we will host The Poetic Playground, a Poetry and Jazz event with Bernard Collins, Nzadi Keita, and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble!

In May, we will present Twelfth Night – our first Shakespeare production in over twenty years. This hilarious play will also mark the return of Allens Lane’s “Café Theater,” where audience members are invited to bring their own food and drink to enjoy before the show.

With such an incredible past and an exciting present, the theater at Allens Lane Art Center welcomes you to a great future of unforgettable and joyous theatrical experiences that will continue to bring the Northwest Philadelphia community together through the arts, seventy years and counting.

Josh Hitchens
Theater Artistic Director

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Mount Airy, Philadelphia

Since 1953