Community foundation arts grant to bring new life to downtown Reading, PA

As part of its ongoing strategy to showcase how vibrant downtown Reading, Pennsylvania can be, Berks County Community Foundation has awarded $36,263 in grants for projects that will bring the arts to Penn Street.

The programs include a dance festival and the staging of a full-length musical. This is the first of five annual distributions of up to $50,000 for arts programming on Penn Street.

The Community Foundation has spent two decades organizing fact-finding missions to other cities around the world to determine how they created an exciting atmosphere downtown, said Kevin K. Murphy, Community Foundation president.

We have discovered that the blueprint is surprisingly simple,” Murphy said. “In all of the communities that we visited and that have successfully overcome issues that mirror ours in Reading, they have pursued the same strategy: Stage events to showcase how vibrant the urban core can be and then support private investment as it flows in to capitalize on the increased foot traffic and interest in downtown.”

The most recent round of arts grants to pursue this strategy:

  • $9,900 to the Ringgold Band to host three concert band music performances on Penn Street. Dates and details to come.
  • $8,000 to Reading Theater Project to create Saturday night artistic performance events. Programs will pair unusual combinations, such as a jazz band and a live painter or an improv comedy troupe and a slam poet, and will link to events such as the Reading Fire + Ice Fest. Dates and details to come.
  • $7,530 to Genesius Theatre to stage a musical on Penn Square with an orchestra and full cast. Information about the date and the selection of the musical has not been finalized.
  • $7,500 to RIZE for the Dance on the Streets Festival at Fourth and Penn streets Sept. 12.
  • $3,333 to Albright College for Faces of Reading + 10. This project by Albright history professor John Pankratz is wrapping up this week at a studio at 645 Penn St. where the amateur photographer is revisiting his project from a decade ago to capture the unique portraits of hundreds of city residents, workers and visitors.

The Foundation has committed to funding other festivals and events to generate activity downtown. The Foundation created and sponsored the Reading Fire + Ice Fest, which will return for a second time Jan. 15-17, 2016.

The Foundation gave $50,000 for each production of the festival. The Foundation also gave a $100,000 grant to the Reading Downtown Improvement District (DID) for staging equipment for performances. The Foundation also gave another $100,000 this year as the main sponsor of the Downtown Alive free concert series on Penn Street, which is the result of a partnership with DID and the SMG-managed Santander Arena.

  • Aug. 5, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Striking Matches, 500 block of Penn Street.
  • Sept. 23, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, 500 block of Penn Street.
  • Oct. 24, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Gin Blossoms, 700 block of Penn Street.

The final concert will serve as a kickoff to the Reading Royals hockey season, which begins that night at the Santander Arena.

Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing and distributing funds to meet existing and emerging community needs. More information is available at

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