UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Deb and Stan Latta know that an arts-related experience can be transformative at any age. For their longstanding support of the Center for the Performing Arts and the Penn State community, the couple has been named the center’s 2020 Distinguished Service Award recipients. The award will be presented to the couple at a donor event in late August.
“I could not be more thrilled to see Stan and Deb Latta receive this well-deserved recognition,” said George Trudeau, the center’s director. “The arc of their experience of discovery and engagement with the performing arts is inspirational.”
The State College couple knows firsthand the benefits of a well-rounded life experience. In college, Deb was an arts ally and president of Penn State’s Orchesis dance company, and Stan was an outdoor buff and soccer athlete. He came to attend many of the performances for which she danced and choreographed. Over time, he said, he realized his own interests intersected in the like components—the “movement, flexibility, interpretation and agility.”
The connection Stan made between key aspects of the performing arts and athletic foundations gave him a deeper appreciation of the unfamiliar and influenced his work at Penn State. While director of Union and Student Activities, he advocated for the creation of several dedicated art spaces in the HUB-Robeson Center.
Reflecting on his personal relationship with the arts, Stan said, “There are stories and interpretations that I can appreciate or relate to in my own life experiences. I never fully appreciated that aspect of the arts until Deb challenged me to not just look at a performance or piece of art, but rather ask what message the artist is trying to relate.”
Deb, retired from State College Area School District as an elementary and high school principal, said few students came to school having been exposed to live performing arts, visual arts and other creative outlets outside a general education curriculum.
“That was one of the most positive aspects of my job: to watch with delight as our specials teachers would encourage art, library, drama and music, then observing how quickly and excitedly the children took to it,” she said.
While there are many opportunities for young people to enjoy an arts-related event throughout State College, the Center for the Performing Arts offers its own chances for children to experience the performing arts through pre-performance activities like Kids Connections, as well as School-Time Matinees and in-school visits.
“The Center for the Performing Arts does a marvelous job sponsoring children’s performances at practically no cost to students. Local schools have also worked with the center to enable performers to spend time in the schools working with students,” Deb said. “These types of authentic, hands-on experiences are invaluable for introducing the arts to children and students of all ages.”
It’s the culmination of the Lattas’ experiences that influenced them to become Center for the Performing Arts members and sponsors. Deb also volunteered on the center’s Community Advisory Council for six years. In 2019, the couple created the Debra Lee Latta and Dr. Stanley E. Latta Endowment, which will help to financially support the center’s efforts in using the performing arts to engage local K–12 students.
Since becoming members, the couple has helped to co-commission two Cirque Éloize productions and has sponsored a number of performances both through the Latta endowment and with Deb as a member of the Passionate Supporters of Dance.
“Through their long association and participation with the center, they continue to encourage creating opportunities for all to connect with the performing arts,” Trudeau said.
The Distinguished Service Award has been given annually since 1996.