25 long years ago, Dan and Betty Butler had a dream to create the world’s premier youth circus performing arts organization. They hoped to be recognized for providing innovative programming, world-class training, and professional-level performances in a state-of-the-art circus center. Now based in St. Paul, Minnesota, over 1,500 students thrive under the big top they built.
In 1994, the Butlers started an after-school program, then known as Circus of the Star, in a neighborhood recreation center. The initial offerings of this space were limited, only accommodating 30 students who were training on hand-made equipment. From the start, classes were filled to capacity. After enthralling audiences at their first performance during St. Paul’s Highland Fest in 1995, interest in the program only increased. Before long, the waiting list was over 300 names long!
Recognizing the widespread appeal and the local needs for a youth circus arts program, the organization began a capital campaign in 1997 to build a permanent home. By that time, Circus of the Star was serving 120 students with more than 400 on a waiting list. A board of directors was established, a long-term lease was secured from the City of St. Paul, and initial designs for the 21,000-square-foot big top were commissioned and completed. The campaign goal of $2.1 million was reached, and the big top was built in 2001 thanks to the generosity of hundreds of contributors of all sizes. The organization was then re-named Circus Juventas, for the Roman Goddess of Youth. Circus Juventas opened its big top doors on July 9, 2001, with a greatly-expanded curricula – accommodating toddlers, youth, and adults and an emphasis on performing.
Circus Juventas has now grown into the largest performing arts circus school in North America, serving over 1,500 students through year-round classes and summer camp programs and 50,000 spectators annually. The response to Circus Juventas’ programming and performances has been gratifying and invigorating. Circus Juventas allows students to realize their optimal potential through a multicultural circus arts experience. The showcase performances for beginning and intermediate students each spring have proven to be as popular as the summer shows, which feature our cast of advanced performers. Circus Juventas has captivated hundreds of thousands of audience members in venues throughout the Twin Cities in performances and in partnership with other arts and civic organizations, including the prestigious Ordway Center.
St. Paul’s mayor, Mayor Melvin Carter, came to see Circus Juventas’ most recent summer show TWISTED in August 2019. He stated, “At Circus Juventas, our young people learn discipline, integrity, and how to work together as a team. They also learn one of the most important skills that all of us must learn in life: how to fall down, get back up, and try again. Circus Juventas is not just about creating incredible experiences for audience members. It is also about lifting up and touching the lives of young people, their families, and our entire community.”
Circus Juventas is now wrapping up a year of celebratory events, including the hit summer show TWISTED, hosting and presenting David Dimitri’s L’Homme Cirque, and a record-breaking fundraising gala. So, what is next for the future of Circus Juventas? They are going to finish the 25-year anniversary celebrations with the St. Paul Winter Carnival and a big World Circus Day event in May 2020. After that, they will continue to serve the youth in the community and create memorable moments for audience members. As long as they are able, they will change lives for the better. Happy anniversary, Circus Juventas. Here is to 25+ more years of excellence in circus arts!
Feature photo of Spanish web from the 2019 summer show TWISTED. Photo credit: Visit St. Paul
This article was also published in White Tops Magazine