How it all started...
Many walk into our studio and are surprised at what they find: inside a plain warehouse is a simple black box theater that we call The Gathering Place, occupied by scattered tables and chairs that are predictably in a different array every time one enters. The lobby now holds a small Resource Center for sharing and selling educational materials and handcrafts, self-serve snacks, and info about Talents Unleashed.
The theater holds a small stage backed by a faux brick wall to allow for entrance to the stage from both sides, a real piano (of course) and a moveable “fireplace.”
Some visitors never know that through the big black door is a staircase filled with pictures from TU History and a doorway to our practice area. There we have a “poor man’s dance floor” and mirrored walls, two practice/lesson rooms (with more real pianos) and a small office with four workstations stuffed into it.
How did this happen? How long have you been here? Why have I never heard of this place? Are you Miami’s best-kept secret?
As a homeschool mom of four kids, and a degree in music education, Debbie wanted her kids to have an “ensemble experience.” So she asked a few families in her North Dade area to join her in putting something together with all of their kids. They met in a church, the kids voted on a name and “Vessels of Gold” was born. A patriotic theme was chosen, and a week later was 9/11/2001. It was a simple beginning and included kids as young as 7. They all learned together, the other moms found a few skits on the internet, and they shared their work with a couple of nursing homes.
Some of the families got together again the next year, and some new ones joined, and they did it again, and again. Each year they found rehearsal space, met once per week, and worked to find places that would allow them to perform. Some who heard them asked to join the following year, so they continued to roll along. As Debbie’s kids graduated, it became more apparent that this group had taken a life of its own and was no longer just a homeschool project for her family.
The marriage upheaval is literally a part of the story, as Debbie needed to bring in more income and was invited to teach at PACE down in Kendall. As a result, some of those families wanted to join the Vessels project. Back and forth now with families scattered across the county, still meeting in churches or larger homes, When Debbie married a businessman who asked to see her website, she didn’t have a good answer. Uh, nope - no idea how to do that! And then Vessels of Gold stepped into the 21st century. Incorporated? Nooo, don’t know how to do that either. But what about that dream of getting off the road and having a real place to meet? Debbie looked at the name and decided that “Gold” could be “Growth Opportunities for Learning and Development.” Although it was organized to be a non-profit, it would be years before another person would step in to help with what had finally become a simplified process to be officially recognized as a 501(c)3.
Debbie’s parents had reached the stage where they needed more help, and more and more Vessels of G.O.L.D. participants were in South Dade. So the big move to Kendall took place, into a home with room enough for her parents and rehearsal space. Hosting a large group for rehearsals every week is a mixed blessing and Debbie and Onnie continued the search for independent space that had begun before the move.
South Kendall Community Church asked the group to do a series of summer camps in 2013. This first-ever experience utilized the talents and experience of the performers with a few alums and was apparently enough of a success that many of the young campers wanted to continue in the fall. SKCC allowed them to use their facility the entire school year and “Chrysos” (“gold” in Greek) was born. Some of the graduating Vessels members wanted to do something more with musical theater, so almost simultaneously “Aureus” (“gold” in Latin) was started. As Aureus rehearsed at Debbie’s house, one of the “Vessels dads” negotiated their move into the warehouse space that they still occupy. Talents Unleashed was organized as another business to allow room for expansion into other types of business they might want to offer.
Onnie worked downstairs while Aureus and Vessels rehearsed upstairs, stripping out leftovers from the previous tenant and prepping for many work days over the months to come. Debbie can list the names of so many who did work that can be identified to this day, nine years later. With very few exceptions, she can tell you a story about each piece of furniture, the building and rebuilding of the stage - in stages, and who redesigned the bathroom!
As the space developed, so did more groups and activities, the website, events, social media and more. Pre-COVID, the studio was hosting 10 groups, some (like Chrysos and Nuggets of GOLD) with two rehearsal options. One startup group has yet to resume, and one has finally “re-grouped” this fall (2022) for the first time since COVID. A small business COVID loan got them through the first summer, and a big fundraiser push got them through the 2021 year of recovery.
Although the TU community has still not reached pre-COVID numbers, they have been encouraged to continue the work of sharing arts experiences that bring glory to our creative God. Debbie’s own experience shopping for solid activities for her grandson made her realize how expensive quality family-oriented activities can be. She put out a “declaration” that TU would not be raising any rates in the upcoming 2022-23 season. Then at the end of summer camps this year (including a musical about the story of Gideon), just as Aureus was beginning their performance season, the studio received notice that rent will go up $1,000 per month beginning in November. After much prayer and consultations, and encouragement, the decision was made to press forward.
In 2022 Memories of GOLD presented the studio with $1,000 to cover the cost increase in November of that year. In the aftermath of Ian, the planned Facebook fundraiser was canceled. The Lord has seen fit for the work at the Talents Unleashed studio to continue through the 2022-2023 season.
At the beginning of the summer of 2023, after learning that our rent would go up another $1,000 per month in November, the decision was made to close the current studio location and to look for a home that will not only house the opportunities to learn and develop that our community has come to depend on, but to also house our founder Debra Arce-Carr and her husband Onnie. As of this writing there is a fundraiser to help raise the money needed to move our operation and help with a downpayment. You can click here to contribute. We continue to prayerfully search for a new home; in the meantime registration for 2023-2024 is open and we plan to rehearse in homes and churches as we used to do in our very beginning. Wait 'til you see what's next!
As of September 13th 2023 we have found a new home!