MCAA Teams Up with Patriot Green Fund for New Landscaping Project

Mason Community Arts Academy is the community arts education unit of George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. The Academy offers classes, lessons, and workshops in all of the arts disciplines to the community at large.

“Most people know us through our award winning Summer Arts Camps that we bring every summer to the Mason Fairfax Campus,” said Matt Geske, MCAA Operations Manager, “where a total of 1,500+ K-12 students fill the College’s arts classroom and performance spaces with activity, creativity, and fun.”

However, somewhat removed from that limelight is the official Mason Community Arts Academy building, housing small classroom and lesson room spaces and administrative offices, located less than a mile from the George Mason Fairfax campus at 4260 Chain Bridge Road. Year-round arts classes and lessons take place in the building, averaging 400+ visitors weekly during Fall and Spring.

“We are so grateful to be able to use this building, owned by the GMU Foundation, to provide quality and accessible arts education activities to the local community,” continued Geske. “That being said, it is an aging building, which comes with the usual wear and tear over time.”

One of those wear and tear elements referred to was the state of the landscaping adjacent to the Academy building. Existing vegetation had become unwieldly and unhealthy, and some plants had even died out all together, leaving a rather forlorn scenic view. While this state of affairs began posing an aesthetic challenge, at the same time it had another more subtle effect.

“For half of the year, in the warmer months, the afternoon sun can be quite merciless, heating up the two-story building to the point where the AC needs to run constantly to try and keep up,” stated Geske. He went on to explain that the declining landscape vegetation only worsened the situation, as much-needed shade from the foliage began disappearing. But funding for new landscaping posed a challenge for the non-profit organization.

Patriot Green Fund logo

Noting an intersection between landscape aesthetic beautification and energy cost savings, Geske began seeing potential for a Patriot Green Fund supported project, having been awarded a PFG grant several years prior for a musical instrument recycling program, Instruments in the Attic. In November of last year, after a discussion with MCAA Executive Director Mary Lechter and CVPA’s Facilities Manager Tyler Conway, Geske sent in a project proposal to the PGF, with PGF staff quickly responding favorably to pursue a full application.

Forming a collaborative team between himself, Mary Lechter, Tyler Conway, and George Mason Grounds Manager Erich Miller, Matt was able to construct and submit a full grant application in February, which consequently brought in PGF staff members who assisted with assessment and guidance. Erich Miller and his team were essential to planning the landscape design and plant elements and providing mock-ups.

Happily, the PGF Committee approved a grant award for half of the cost of the project. Mary Lechter then approved funds to cover the other half from a separate private foundation grant award received earlier in the year. With the project being greenlit (pun intended), the team moved into full action in March, as plans were confirmed and Miller’s final landscape design was approved. Being familiar with the Patriot Green Fund’s process of expense reimbursement, Miller and Conway were able to navigate the heavy-lifting accounting aspect, while Geske coordinated with Miller and his crew on the work schedule and other on-site elements of the project.

Main office landscaping

Regarding the final landscape design, it is important to note that Miller, knowing the full spirit of the project, was very intentional in selecting specific plant species native to northern Virginia, that were categorized as “drought resistant” so as not require excessive watering, that provided bloom and/or leaf color interest year round, and through standard species height and spread would maximize shade coverage of the building without compromising structural concerns.

Finally, during a week in the beginning of April, Miller and his landscaping team arrived on the scene at the Academy building and began the process of clearing existing vegetation and debris, installing the new plant elements, mulching, and watering. A few inspections would follow the next week, concluding with a discussion between Miller and Geske on the maintenance plan going forward. This plan involved a collaborative effort between the grounds team and Geske to ensure plant health was monitored effectively and watering occurred as needed. Furthermore, the long term maintenance would be folded into the larger George Mason grounds plan.

Geske put a finishing touch on the project by placing yard signs amongst the landscaping acknowledging the support of the Patriot Green Fund and George Mason’s University Sustainability. “PGF’s support was pivotal in allowing this project to move forward,” commented Geske, “and just like its support of our musical instrument recycling program several years back, the impact will be felt (and seen!) for many years to come.”

Although it will take a few years to be able to evaluate the resulting energy cost savings to the building, as it will take some time for the vegetation to grow and fill out, the aesthetic improvement has seen immediate response. Academy staff, faculty, students, and visitors were quick to provide positive and excited feedback to the Main Office of the improvements, and a real sense of rejuvenation has been felt. Furthermore, with university student townhomes located directly behind the Academy building, the George Mason students living there have enjoyed walking past the new landscaping on their way to campus.

Edited by Regina Schneider


Virginia House Of Delegates Honors MCAA & AFYP

This week, Delegate Kathy Tran presented our Executive Director Mary Lechter with House Resolution 804, in honor of Acting for Young People’s 25th anniversary in 2022. Co-signed by Delegate David Bulova and unanimously approved by the entire House of Delegates, the Resolution highlights AFYP’s long history in the surrounding community, and the even greater impact these programs have had, made possible in collaboration with Mason Community Arts Academy.

“I’m truly humbled by this honor.” notes Ms. Lechter. “This recognition is especially meaningful, as we have had the opportunity to work with children from both the Tran and Bulova families in our Acting and Music programs over the years. Perhaps most important of all is the feedback Delegate Tran shared in person, and includes in the Resolution itself, commending our staff and faculty for the authentic experiences they provide for our students. It has always been my goal to provide a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment in which students can learn and grow. I am touched that we’ve been acknowledged for this core value of our programs.”

We look forward to providing quality arts education to the community for the next 25 years and beyond!

Written by Mary Lechter
Edited by Regina Schneider


5 Reasons to Join us for Moving Story’s Musical Theatre Intensive

This January, Mason Community Arts Academy and Moving Story welcome students and performers ages 15-20 with musical theater experience to participate in the Moving Story Musical Theater Intensive.

Kelly D’Amboise, a program faculty member who is a director, choreographer, & teaching artist, writes 5 reasons students should join us this January!

  1. Connect to your most authentic self as an artist-YOU are what’s most exciting about your audition or performance!
  2. Work with artists and industry professionals who are passionate about musical theatre. 
  3. Dance, Sing, and Act your face off! 
  4. Sharpen your audition skills- learn from Broadway veterans and Casting Directors how to make the most of your time in the audition room and what gets you cast! 
  5. Connect with your peers in the DC area and have a blast! 

Students will receive invaluable feedback to sharpen their audition and performance skills, hone their craft, and most importantly, tap into what makes them unique as a performing artist! Learn from the best, do the work, and have a blast! JOIN US!


Congratulations to Composition student Ivy Xu

MCAA congratulates composition student, Ivy Xu, on winning first place in the Musical Offering 2022 Young Women’s Composition Competition. Ivy’s composition, After the Storm, won first place in the Middle School Category. Entries were received from North American, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The winning entries will be performed by Musical Offering faculty members.

Ivy has been with MCAA for several years, taking violin and composition private lessons. Ivy is currently studying with MCAA’s piano and theory/composition teaching artist, Dr. Radina Dosseva. She has also participated in our Acting for Young People workshops, and Summer Music Production and Music Composition camps.


Welcome to the Academy’s Fall 2022 Session

Fresh off our first fully in-person summer since 2019, MCAA proudly presented 108 programs and welcomed 1580 community members of all ages to campus. Classes were taught by Mason faculty, alumni, graduate and undergraduate students, teachers from the surrounding school systems and from around the country, esteemed guest artists, and graduates of our Academy programs in all disciplines. We now turn our attention to the fall group and private music session, which begins on August 29th!

As many of you know, Libby Curtis retired at the end of July, after 14 years of exemplary leadership. We want to thank everyone who has contributed to the Elizabeth Curtis Excellence Fund for the Mason Community Arts Academy, allowing us to provide scholarship assistance for students who might not otherwise have access to arts education. We wish Libby and her husband Mark Camphouse well as they make their new home in Delaware.

During this time of transition, we’re excited to update you on our staff structure, so you can get to know our amazing team and all that they do!

We are thrilled to welcome back Matt Geske in his new role as our Operations Manager. A member of the Academy’s original administrative staff, Matt oversees HR, purchasing, facilities, and development.

Ariel Williams joins us as our Assistant Coordinator of Programs & Operations. Ariel has worked with the Academy since 2017 as a saxophone instructor and onsite coordinator for our summer programs, and we are thrilled to welcome her aboard full-time. Ariel earned a Bachelor’s of Music Education from Mason’s Sid and Reva Family School of Music, and recently completed her Master’s of Music Performance from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She will lend her support and expertise in all areas of the Academy.

Kaity Ormesher steps into an expanded position as Outreach & Theater Program Manager. Kaity has worked with Acting for Young People since 2009, and now manages the daily operations of our Academy theater programs and outreach efforts.

Regina Schneider, one of our most recent staff additions, is our Marketing & Communications Coordinator. Regina joined the Academy staff in March 2022 and oversees marketing, written communications, our website, advertising, social media, and more.

Our Private Music Instruction Coordinator, Morgan Johnson, manages over 300 lessons each week, and is a wonderful resource for our faculty, students, and families.

Last but certainly not least, our Director of Programs, Alaina Santos, did a beautiful job managing the details for all of our recent summer offerings, and has already been hard at work on program plans for Fall and beyond.

Rounding out this incredible team are our part time administrative staff, including Samantha Clarke, Lucas KremerDanae Powers, Sylvia Li, Yiming Yang, Kathleen West, Dawn Matthews, Sophia Inserra, and longtime Academy staff member Candy Neukam, who will join us for special projects.

On behalf of all of us, we look forward to seeing our students and their families soon for lessons and classes, and we truly appreciate your support of the Academy.


Warm Regards,

Mary Lechter

Executive Director, Mason Community Arts Academy