I immediately said yes when I was offered the opportunity to write this week’s Rebuilding the City column. I wasn’t going to miss out on sharing my perspective on the importance of downtown Wilkes-Barre with you, and I believe I have a unique perspective as a local resident, consistent advocate for the performing and visual arts, owner and former owner of Wilkes-Barre Dance Theater Downtown Arts.

My fond memories of downtown Wilkes-Barre go back to my childhood, visiting Public Square for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon, shopping at Pomeroy’s, and eating bagels with cream cheese and Pensak’s. At age 10, I took the bus from West Pittston to the square and then walked to the Wilkes-Barre Ballet Theater, which was located where Top of the Slope is now.

Art has been my calling since an early age, and I was fortunate to be selected in 1984 as one of 30 Pennsylvania dancers to attend the Governor’s School of the Arts. I graduated from Point Park College Conservatory of Performing Arts in 1989 (now Pittsburgh’s only downtown university) and have danced professionally in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York. I was honored to receive the Howard B. Fedrick Friend of the Fine Arts Fiesta Award in 2016 and to be named one of the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal’s Top 25 Women in Business in 2019.

While my number one priority has always been to succeed as a wife and mother, my outlet, passion and satisfaction is teaching ballet and my ongoing commitment to protecting the arts.

I truly believe that everything I learned in my professional dance career was meant for me to come home and share my successes, struggles, and obstacles with my students and help them navigate their way through the process. Realizing that any artist can make their passion their profession is truly a reality. It’s not an easy route, but it’s a rewarding one.

My passion has become my profession here in downtown Wilkes-Barre. As the owner of Downtown Arts for over a decade, I have been involved in housing over 50 artists and non-profits, incubating collaborations and helping successful businesses like Restored Church, Wyoming Valley Art League and Verve Vertu. And as the owner and director of Wilkes-Barre Dance Theatre, I teach young people to dance. I thank all the parents for allowing me to teach and work with their children, because having the experience and foundation of artistic expression benefits us for life.

I am truly committed to arts advocacy and excited about the emphasis placed on the arts throughout downtown Wilkes-Barre and the region. This requires the participation and dedication of many people, and I am proud to be involved in various events and programs, such as directing events for local non-profit organizations, including Dancing with the Stars for the Kidney Association and The Perfect Storm for the American Red Cross. choreographing the Epic Awards for the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce and guest speaking on Arts and Culture for Leadership in the Northeast.

Most recently, I had the pleasure of attending the exciting announcement of the Luzerne County Arts and Entertainment Hall of Fame. What a tremendous contribution to our community.

There are many things you can do to keep the arts alive in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Visit our wonderful galleries, attend exhibitions and concerts in our theaters and other venues, and volunteer with our organizations. Philanthropy is also necessary for our artistic community to thrive, which reminds me of one of my favorites, Essie Davidowitz, whose spirit lives on forever. I am very grateful for her generosity and love of the arts over the years, and I thank all donors for your support.

The Diamond City Partnership, Wilkes-Barre’s downtown nonprofit management organization, asked me to participate in the Downtown Arts Forum and, true to our mission, we support and promote arts and culture in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Our collaborative approach is to promote, educate and celebrate the power of creative expression.

The arts are a vital component of our community, and promoting opportunities to enjoy them greatly benefits our downtown and the entire region. I hope you will join the effort and share your experience, expertise and knowledge in furthering this effort.

The next Art Forum meeting is Wednesday, November 16, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Wilkes-Barre Think Center, 7 South Main Street, Wilkes-Barre. We invite you to attend the meeting where we will discuss, among other topics, the 72nd anniversary of the Jazz Cavalcade, scheduled for May 2023.

If you make your passion your profession and if you enjoy and participate in the art, you will whistle while working every day. I know it is.

Gina Malsky is a passionate arts leader and advocate, owner/director of Downtown Wilkes-Barre Dance Theatre.