If you’ve noticed an uptick in activity in downtown Reading this year, you’re not imagining things. This place is hopping. And now is your opportunity to get involved.

Starting today, your organization can apply for a grant from the Berks County Arts Fund – Penn Street Arts Grant Program to bring performances, exhibits, and cultural activities to downtown Reading in 2016.

A total of $50,000 in grants is available 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 on Fifth Street in either direction. Download a PDF of a Main Street area map here.

Programs may include performances, exhibits, interactive activities or other creative ideas that bring arts and culture to the residents of our community. Preference is given to established arts organizations.

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 downtown businesses and encourage the development of vacant properties by creative entrepreneurs. The more positive activity there is downtown, the more likely it is that businesses will want to invest in the area.

The program began last year and will repeat each year through 2019. To give you a sense of scope, the following grants were awarded in 2015:

•    $9,900 to the Ringgold Band to host three music performances in the Main Street area, the first of which dovetailed with the annual Reading Holiday Parade and included photos with Santa.

•    $7,530 to Genesius Theatre to stage Hairspray with an orchestra and full cast in the 6th and Penn Courtyard. The September performance drew more than 400 people with their lawn chairs.

  Genesius Theatre’s performance of Hairspray packed a downtown courtyard.
  (Photos courtesy of Reading Eagle)

•    $7,500 to RIZE for the Dance on the Streets Festival at Fourth and Penn streets, which corresponded with the international Reading 120 bike race and sought to beat the salsa dancing world record.

•    $3,333 to Albright College for Faces of Reading + 10. This project by Albright history professor John Pankratz was staged in the old Exide building at 645 Penn St. last summer, revisiting a project from a decade ago to capture the unique portraits of hundreds of city residents, workers and visitors.

•    $8,000 to Reading Theater Project to create Saturday night artistic performance events at restaurants and venues within the Main Street area.

Applications are due by March 15. Decisions will be announced by the end of April. Programs must be held within one year of a grant being awarded.

All applications must be submitted online. Click here to “sign up” or “sign in” and apply.

We look forward to reading your application and to bringing more fun and excitement to Penn Street in 2016.


Heidi Williamson
Vice President for Programs and Initiatives