Why White Pines at the Elkins Estate?

    The Elkins Estate has been transferred from a bankrupt conservancy to its previous owners. Management of the property is uncertain, but Benjamin Lloyd hopes his White Pines Productions will be a part of the estate for years to come.

    Recently I was part of a board retreat for White Pines Productions, the small not-for-profit production company I founded in 2009. Andy Robinson, the consultant we hired to guide us through the day, gave us the following exercise:

    Answer this question: Why White Pines? Begin with the word “because,” and then let the answer be only one sentence long.

    We were sitting in the ornate music room of Elstowe mansion, the grand white marble mansion William Lukens Elkins built in 1898 on a 42-acre estate. The room has a breath-taking effect. I use the phrase literally, as I have heard over and over the sudden in-rush of breath, the gasp, emitted by first-time visitors to this and other rooms on the property. It is a room designed to celebrate and, I think, stimulate creativity.

    I saw this in action last summer when Philadelphia’s Green Chair Dance Group nearly camped out in there during a week-long residency White Pines awarded them, as they worked on their newest piece.

    I have seen the room hum along with a wide variety of musicians White Pines has presented there: jazz groups, singer-songwriters, chanteuses and — drawing our biggest audience to date — a capella groups from Cheltenham High School. Indeed, the entire property acts as a kind of invitation to creativity, renewal and reflection.

    White Pines is in the process of working with local directors Adrienne Mackey, Maria Moller and others to create unique site-specific events at the Elkins Estate. Commonwealth Classic Theater presented Richard III outdoors there last summer and will be back in 2012. And we are inaugurating a summer camp for kids, partnering with Yes! And… Collaborative Arts Institute to offer children the chance to experience the peace and beauty that is the Elkins Estate.

    The estate has been managed since 2009 by the Land Conservancy of Elkins Park, now in bankruptcy. In February, a judge ruled against them, and now the management of the property is in more confusion than ever before. How tragic it would be if the opportunity to continue developing the estate as a civic and community resource — for arts, education, retreats and events — was lost through legal obstruction and ill will.

    Let’s be clear: The only reason the Elkins Estate is in such great condition is the care and nurture of the Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci, who called the place home for 75 years. They deserve to be “made right” in any future plan. White Pines stands ready to work with any and all partners to preserve and celebrate the Elkins Estate.

    White Pines will be steadfast in its mission however this drama plays out, and continue to offer the community arts, culture and educational opportunities there at little or no cost, and to act as an incubator for the region’s performing artists. We hope to be a part of the Elkins Estate for years to come.

    Why White Pines at the Elkins Estate? Because artists need a place to grow. Because creativity transforms people. Because beauty begets more beauty. Because art isn’t only an event — it’s a place

    Benjamin Lloyd is the founding producer of White Pines Productions.

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