Cirque D’Art Founder Peggy Wilkes works with one of her many circus students.
By Nicole Huff
Scioto County Candor
After seeing a survey which told of there not being enough activities in the Portsmouth area for children, administrative assistant at the Southern Ohio Museum and founder and director of the Cirque D’ Art Theater Pegi Wilkes knew just how to fix that problem.
“In my young life, I had family members that were with the local circus. So while growing up, even though I never wanted anything to do with circus and had actually wanted to be a forest ranger, God always just moves you where you need to be, so even though I didn’t think I would have anything to do with it, I have actually started two circus programs,” Wilkes explained. “The one in Vero Beach is still ongoing. When I retired, I turned it over to two of my former students, and they’ve kept it up for 42 years now. And, this one is in it’s 18th year,” Wilkes explained, speaking of her second circus program in Portsmouth, called the Cirque D’Art Theater.
Wilkes grew up in the local Southern Ohio area most of her life, though she moved to Florida in her early years. Eventually she returned home during her senior year of highschool. Then she returned again to Florida, where she attended college. Wilkes is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.
The circus founder says knew she would always want to come back to her hometown, though her husband thought the idea was crazy at the time. Shortly after retiring from her Florida program, Wilkes thought she would be working a couple days a week at the Southern Ohio Museum. But after the museum received a grant through the Ohio Arts Council that allowed the museum to start a program solely for children, Wilkes’s coworkers expressed that she should run a local circus program, which allowed her to start the program with only two requests: that it be kept small and only run two days a week.
That too would not go as planned, though it has been a blessing for Wilkes to watch the program grow. For the first year of the program, there were 55 students arriving two days a week. 18 years later, Cirque D’Art now has 300 students and meets five days a week.
“My favorite moments of this program are just when I’m here with the kids, all the time, always,” Wilkes commented. “The day can be terrible, but you walk in and all these kids with smiling faces run up asking for ballet shoes, or asking for a hug, and how can you beat that?”
These moments have motivated her to continue offering her unique skills and talents to the Portsmouth area, even when programs grow far beyond their original intents.
Cirque d’Art exists with the goal “to mentor individuals physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially to attain positive self-esteem and self-confidence in a safe, enjoyable, and instructional performing arts environment.”
The program aims to be inclusive of all individuals, regardless of socio-economic status, special needs, education level, ethnic origin, shape or size. Wilkes seeks to offer a unique and expressive art form that enriches the community.
The Cirque D’Art theater will be hosting a number of upcoming events and performances. For a chance to see Wilkes and her students in action, call (740)-353-8656 for more information about classes or performances.