A formerly dilapidated factory in the heart of Valenica, Spain, has now become the Playground Art Center, a thriving arts academy and community centre for children and adults alike, due to the vision and effort of SBE alumnus Christopher Pena and his wife, Ankie Titulaer (Conservatorium Maastricht).
A long way from his hometown of Santa Barbara, California, and a giant leap from his previous career as a sports agent, Pena decided he wanted a change. “I was looking for a long-term building project to keep me grounded and to do some good, so we decided to dive in head first,” he says.
After purchasing the old factory one year ago, Pena got to work. “It was really a time capsule,” he says. “I spent a year on renovations, getting rid of anything that was junk and keeping anything that was cool, and then we reincorporated that into the space.”
Opened now for one year, the centre—which houses an art gallery, a nice café and rooms that can be rented for events and exhibitions—offers courses in everything from painting to dance to theatre to LEGO robotics, all taught by experts in their fields.
Kids arrive after school to participate in the courses, and adults arrive in the evenings. “Our students range from age 2 to . . . there’s no cap on the age,” Pena says. “We’ve got 85 students right now, which sounds like a lot, but it’s a large space at 800 square metres so we are pushing for international collaborations, student exchanges, Spanish as a foreign language and new innovative ideas!”
In addition, classes are mainly taught in English—the only art academy in the city to do so. According to the centre’s Facebook page, this is due to the belief of Pena and his wife, who is the director of the school, that “linguistic learning is easiest while doing the things you love.”
The Valencian community, which Pena describes as “vibrant,” has so far responded with great enthusiasm to engaging in creative and unique cultural activities while learning English at the same time.
For Pena and his wife it’s been an opportunity to focus their energy on non-traditional education, something he says they have always loved, and to apply a particular method to the teaching that challenges the norm.“We call it project-based learning,” he says. “We want to guide the students to achieving a result they are proud of start to finish and celebrate the completion with social recognition. It builds their confidence, and opens them up to something new.”
Christopher Pena graduated MSc International Business with a specialisation in Marketing-Finance (2011) from Maastricht University School of Business and Economics. Find out more about activities at the Playground Art Center on YouTube and follow the Center on Facebook. If you are looking to be hosted in Valencia or can use the help of Pena’s network there, or want to learn Spanish through cultural events in the city, contact the Center via www.playgroundartcenter.com.