Photo of dance students outside the Conservatory doorsBuilt on an abandoned gravel lot in a city that was lacking cultural offerings, the Straz Center began as the dream of a community.  Today the Straz Center is the largest performing arts center in the Southeast and the only one with an on-site performing arts conservatory. The Straz Center was incorporated in 1980 and opened in 1987.

In the early 1990s, the Straz Center (then known as Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) established arts education as a community priority, working closely with area public, private and home school programs to enhance arts education for children throughout the seven-county Tampa Bay area. Outreach programs included curriculum connectors to Florida education standards and teacher study guides in print and online. The Straz Center’s extended in-school artistic residencies, summer programs and after school offerings helped to fill the increasing gaps in arts education left by budget cuts.

Since 1991 the Straz Center’s Education department housed programs such as Tampa Bay Youth Orchestra and Community Arts Ensemble, a free summer theater day camp that served urban children in need by connecting them with nationally known artists in a rehearsal-based process. Each summer, an original musical play was written and produced especially for that year’s group of up to 100 children to perform in a fully-staged production for friends and family in one of the Straz Center’s main halls.

The Patel Conservatory was built in 2004 in response to community need for high quality arts education programs. After a $30-million capital campaign, the Straz Center constructed and opened the Patel Conservatory without debt. The Conservatory worked to develop a progression of arts education courses and programs, allowing students to advance from discovery to mastery of artistic skills.

In 2005 the Patel Conservatory received the Annual Future of the Region Award from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, and became a member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts.

In 2006, the Community Arts Ensemble program was expanded and redesigned to become Access Arts, a proactive scholarship program that identifies, enrolls and mainstreams talented, underserved children into high quality, year-round conservatory training in the performing arts discipline of the student’s choice.

The Straz Center committed development resources to raising funds for Access Arts, and implemented a “Broadway Ball Stars” fundraiser that incorporated student performances. The Access Arts program awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships its very first year.

The Patel Conservatory worked to establish affiliations with The Florida Orchestra, V.O.I.C.Experience, Orlando Ballet School and The Broadway League, bringing exceptional educational opportunities to pre-professional training programs at the Patel Conservatory.

Also in 2007, the Patel Conservatory formalized its extensive Arts Education School & Community Partnership program that continues to serve more than 40 Title I schools, shelters, service agencies and other community organizations throughout each season.

By the end of 2010, former Orlando Ballet School Director Peter Stark had stepped into the role of Dance Department Chair at the Patel Conservatory and launched the new ballet company, Next Generation Ballet (NGB).

In 2012, the Patel Conservatory received accreditation through the Southern Association of College and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) a division of AdvancED.
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