NOCCA showcases homegrown talent at annual gala

ART and SOUL

It isn’t your typical fundraiser, at least as far as the entertainment is concerned. Rather than spend thousands of dollars on top-name talent, the NOCCA Institute would rather show off the talent it has within its own walls.

So when guests gather at the annual Art & Soul gala May 19 at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, they will be treated to performances by students in the school’s musical theater, jazz, vocal and instrumental music programs.

They will hear from the Alumni Jazz All-Stars along with cellist Jee Yeoun Ko and pianist Michael Pellera, both of whom are NOCCA instructors. Patrons will also be invited to sample hors d’oeuvres and sangria whipped up by students in NOCCA’s culinary arts program.

“It’s always a real fun evening,” said Richard Read, a local actor who is in his 15th year as the NOCCA Institute’s marketing director. “There are a couple of things that set it apart. For one, we put our students in the spotlight along with alumni and faculty. We are able to make use of a couple of different spaces, and people can come and go and experience a range of performances.”

The NOCCA Institute is the fundraising arm of NOCCA, the highly acclaimed arts school that boasts alums such as Harry Connick Jr., Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Wendell Pierce, Anthony Mackie, and Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet.

Founded in 1973, NOCCA offers intensive instruction in dance, music, media arts, theater, visual arts, culinary arts and creative writing. Until last year, NOCCA was strictly a half-day school, with students spending the other half of their day at a traditional high school. Now, incoming students can choose between a half-day or full-day program.

“It’s hugely popular,” Read said of the full-day program, which will add the 11th grade in August and the 12th grade the following year. “It’s something that has been on the faculty’s mind for many, many years. We spent several years looking at other programs, and we created a curriculum that is unlike any other. It’s more than just integrating the arts into academic subjects. It teaches academics in the same hands-on, experiential way we teach the arts.

“So far, the test scores that we’ve seen indicate the program is doing exceptionally well,” he said. “The instruction is really working the way we envisioned.”

So where does the NOCCA Institute come in? As the fundraising arm of the regional public school, it provides supplemental funding to NOCCA with support from corporations, foundations and individual donors.

Although the school is tuition-free, it offers financial aid to students to assist with the varied expenses involved in attending an arts school, such as dance attire, musical instrument supplies and supplemental private lessons. It also helps students attend prestigious summer programs.

“In any given year, 30 percent to 50 percent of our students are below the poverty line,” Read said. “And depending on the year and the economy, it can be a real stretch for families.”

The Institute also funds an artist-in-residence program and arts programs for the general public, and it oversees capital campaigns for future expansion.

Art & Soul, co-sponsored by the Lupin Foundation, is one of the NOCCA Institute’s biggest fundraisers of the year, with much of the money raised that evening coming from a silent auction. This year’s auction items include artwork, travel packages and restaurant gift certificates, among dozens of other items. Traditional bidding methods are available, but for the first time, guests can also bid on items by cellphone using an app called AuctionsByCellular.

“Most people have smartphones, so we thought we’d try to get ahead of the curve,” Read said. “It’s like bidding with a text message, and tabulations are done instantly. What’s nice about it is that you’re not obligated to stay in front of your auction item. You can go hear a performance without worrying that you’re going to get outbid.”