READING, PA (June 20, 2016) – To add to the growing vibrancy downtown, eight projects have been awarded $63,737 in grants from the Berks County Arts Fund of Berks County Community Foundation.

The Arts Fund’s Penn Street Arts Grant Program began last year and funded several projects that brought concerts, a full-length musical, a dance festival and other activities to downtown Reading. The annual program will continue through at least 2019 to support arts and culture activities within the Downtown Improvement District’s Main Street area, which runs up Penn Street from Second Street to the railroad tracks and a few blocks north and south on Fifth Street.

“If you’ve noticed an uptick in activity in downtown Reading, you’re not imagining it,” said Heidi Williamson, Community Foundation vice president for programs and initiatives.

“The Penn Street Arts Grant Program is part of a larger initiative to bring residents of the city and the region to Penn Street to support businesses and encourage the development of vacant properties by creative entrepreneurs,” said Community Foundation President Kevin K. Murphy. “The more positive activity there is downtown, the more likely it is that businesses will want to invest in the area. It’s a strategy that’s been successful in other cities we’ve studied.”

The Genesius Theatre production of Hairspray drew a crowd of at least 400 people to a courtyard off Penn Street in 2015. Another full-length outdoor musical is planned for later this year with funding from the Penn Street Arts Grant Program of Berks County Community Foundation.


Three of the programs that are being funded will coincide with National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15.

Funding in this round of the program includes:

  • $13,198 to Centro Hispano to move its annual Sabor Latino Festival to Penn Street. The Sabor, or “flavor,” festival had been held in other locations around the city. The festival features vendors, live music and performances, and traditional Latino food. The festival will be held September 17 during National Hispanic Heritage Month.
  • $9,950 to Genesius Theatre to hold another “Theatre on Penn” performance. Last year’s free, outdoor, full-length staging of the musical “Hairspray” attracted an audience of more than 400. This year’s musical, which has not yet been revealed, will be produced September 18 in the courtyard between the 600 blocks of Penn and Court streets.
  • $7,000 to Reading Choral Society to hold various public programs at downtown churches, hotels and restaurants.
  • $9,900 to Ringgold Band to stage three downtown performances.
  • $8,700 to ReDesign Reading for its “Art in the Open” program, a public arts display that is running in conjunction with the Penn Street Market farmers market at Fifth and Penn Streets on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • $8,000 to Reading Downtown Improvement District to hold a Pumpkin Festival in the 500 block of Penn Street on October 22. The festival will work with Penn Street Market to spotlight fresh farm foods and local products and crafts.
  • $4,489 to Reading Symphony Orchestra to engage the internationally-touring Sweet Plantain string quartet in a musical education residency. The quartet fuses western classical traditions with hip-hop, jazz improv, and Latin rhythms. Coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, the residency will include a free public performance September 18 at GAPS (Gallery Above Penn Square), 128 N. Fifth St., and programs at Albright College, Alvernia University, Reading School District and The WCR Center for the Arts, 140 N. Fifth St., with the Friends of Chamber Music.
  • $2,500 to RIZE to hold the Dance on the Streets Bailando Music Fest downtown October 15 and to make another attempt to set a Guinness World Record with the largest number of people salsa dancing. The festival coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month.


Berks County Community Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that serves as a civic leader for our region by developing, managing and distributing charitable funds aimed at improving the quality of life in Berks County. More information is available at