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Krannert Center: Building Community Through the Arts

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

Guest post by Emily Laugesen and Monique Rivera of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Krannert Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus is more than a venue for the performing arts. It serves as a classroom, laboratory, and public square in its mission to ensure that the arts are accessible to everyone.

The Krannert Center serves its community as a locus of education, human connection, and innovation in the performing arts.

Here are a few ways Krannert Center builds community through the arts.

Catch The Snail and The Whale by Tall Stories, available virtually through the  Krannert Center Youth Series
Catch The Snail and The Whale by Tall Stories, available virtually through the Krannert Center Youth Series

Krannert Center Youth Series

The Krannert Center Youth Series (KCYS) is dedicated to sharing the life-affirming power of the performing arts with school communities throughout central Illinois. Formed in 1982 through a visionary collaboration with Children’s Theatre Incorporated and Krannert Center, the Youth Series has touched the lives of more than 360,000 young people in its 39-year history. Children who grew up participating in the Youth Series are now sharing these remarkable experiences with their own students.

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the canceling of many upcoming Youth Series productions last year, Krannert Center staff shifted to virtual performances that strived to deliver the same engaging and meaningful experiences that live performance brought.


Krannert Center Youth Series offered a full-body movement class and performance with CONTRA-TIEMPO, a bold, multilingual, Los Angeles-based dance company. This free class had been designed for all ages and levels of ability. It was offered via Zoom in February 2021.

CONTRA-TIEMPO will return to Krannert Center for a live, immersive dance experience at the Colwell Playhouse on November 18.

¡Viva la Cultura! by Las Cafeteras

Krannert Center Youth Series presented a recorded performance of ¡Viva la Cultura! by Las Cafeteras for free and on-demand during March 2021 to the local CU educational community. Through this virtual musical storytelling adventure, Las Cafeteras delivered Afro-Mexican beats, rhythms, and rhymes with inspiring lyrics that tell of a community seeking love and justice in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.

Las Cafeteras will return to Krannert Center for a live, immersive dance experience at the Colwell Playhouse on November 18.

KCYS Digital Subscription Service for the Classroom

In its mission to create meaningful art encounters for children, the Krannert Center Youth Series has worked to develop materials to engage classrooms with a breadth of genres in the performing arts while providing supporting materials for educators to help navigate today’s youth towards deeper intercultural understanding. Study guides and curricular materials invite students to expand their understanding of the artists and art forms and to explore their own creativity through unique and engaging classroom activities.

Upcoming Events:

These events are available for classrooms and homeschool groups with a subscription.

  • Sunny Days, Insect Hands, and Night Tree by Second Hand Dance: Second Hand Dance, a disabled-led dance company that creates bold, accessible, and sensory dance experiences for children and adults, bring subscribers three performances entitled Sunny Days, Insect Hands, and Night Tree, which will inspire children to get moving and go outside (Recommended for grades PreK-2 and available through November).

  • The Snail and The Whale by Tall Stories: Internationally recognized for its exciting blend of storytelling theatre, original music and lots of laughs, Tall Stories brings to life the story of The Snail and the Whale (Recommended for grades PreK-2 and available through November 2021).

  • Stories of Oceania by the Honolulu Theatre for Youth: The Honolulu Theatre for Youth brings the story of Kapili, a student at a new school, who learns about respecting and honoring people of different cultures through the stories of his classmates in Stories of Oceania (Recommended for grades 3+ and available through November).

The engagement staff at Krannert Center is looking forward to bringing back live and in-person performances to the Krannert Center Youth Series in 2022.

Dance for People with Parkinson’s

In collaboration with the Mark Morris Dance Group, the Unity Parkinson’s Disease Support Group, Carle Clinic, and the Department of Dance at Illinois, Krannert Center developed the Dance for People with Parkinson’s workshop.

Led by Dance at Illinois instructors, Laura Chiaramonte and Kate Insolia, this workshop explores gentle movement in a safe, welcoming environment for those living with Parkinson’s. Set to uplifting, familiar music, this class provides a full-body workout that can assist with the preservation and improvement of balance, flexibility, and strength.

Since the pandemic, this monthly workshop has moved to Zoom and now offers the fellowship of communal dance from the comfort of your own home. The next Dance for People with Parkinson’s workshop will be held on December 3, 2021.

Parable Path CU

The Krannert Center and several Champaign-Urbana libraries have united to bring community members together for a compelling community reading of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Parable of the Sower (1993) is an award-winning work of dystopian science fiction that explores the physical and spiritual journey of African American teenager Lauren Oya Olamina who searches for freedom as she navigates an unstable society devastated by climate change and social inequality, among other life-changing experiences.

The original book by Butler, now considered a pioneer of Afrofuturism, has since been adapted as a graphic novel by University of Illinois alumni John Jennings and Damian Duffy. Both versions of Parable of the Sower will be available to participants for use during the 14-week community read. Community members can join a book club or reading group hosted by any of the collaborating libraries to participate in group discussions either in-person or via Zoom.

Learn more about this Series:

Future Spaces in Community Places: This art exhibit invites community members to experience the Afrofuturism art genre. Featuring works by Stacey (BLACKSTAR) Robinson, Shaya (Chocolate Star) Robinson, and Kamau (DJ KamauMau) Grantham.

This exhibition will be on view in the Murphy Gallery of the University of Illinois YMCA until December 17, 2021.

Community Book Read of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower: Join a reading group hosted by a collaborating library near you and participate in discussions to build a stronger reading community together!

Various locations and groups hosted from September 27, 2021, to January 14, 2022.

Opera Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower: As an endcap to this experience, Parable Path CU invites the community to view Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon. This work of political theatre explores gender, race, and the future of human civilization while bringing musical life to Butler’s genre-defying original novel.

This live performance is hosted at Krannert Center for the Performing Art’s Colwell Playhouse February 25-26, 2022.

Help Krannert with its mission.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is able to pursue this important public engagement work and make an impact in the local community and beyond because of the spirited generosity and steadfast commitment of its supporters. Donations to the Center go beyond supporting visiting artist performances and free events. They provide critical funding to pursue initiatives that build towards an equitable and more preferable future for all.

If you would like to learn more about how to make a gift to enact these positive changes in our community, please visit

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About the Author

Emily Laugesen, Co-Director of Engagement, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Part of the Krannert Center staff since 2009, Emily is endlessly fascinated by the power of the arts to bring people together through shared experiences. Her work with arts engagement is focused on creating opportunities for intercultural exchange, personal and professional growth, and community development. She is program director and collaborative curator of the Krannert Center Youth Series, a series of performances by professional touring artists designed to nurture creativity in students preschool through high school.

Monique Rivera, Co-Director of Engagement, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Originally from Key West, Florida, Monique earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Florida State University and honors in French language and phonetics while studying at L’Institut Catholique in Paris, France. She holds a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from the iSchool of Illinois. In 2006, she joined the University of Illinois and served as the senior program coordinator in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access. Currently, Monique serves as co-director of engagement at Krannert Center and is the course administrator for FAA 110: Exploring Arts and Creativity.



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