(Featured photo: Students at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts participate in courses in dance, drama, visual art, music, digital art and creative writing. Photo courtesy Jessye Norman School)
The Jessye Norman School of the Arts has come a long way from its borrowed space at St. John United Methodist Church in 2003.
The school, which offers after school arts programs as well as arts education for home school children and adults, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Its signature fundraiser will be held Oct. 8.
“Twenty years later, we’re still talking about the reasons why,” said Gary Dennis, executive director.
The school began as a way to provide arts programming to children in Richmond County.
“There were 35,000 children and only two full-time art teachers,” he said.
One solution was to establish an arts program.
Among those involved in the planning was Ellis Johnson, a friend of opera singer Jessye Norman who enthusiastically responded with her help.
“She helped raise the initial $50,000 to start,” Dennis said.
In 2008, Peter Knox IV donated the building on the corner of Eighth and Greene Street to the school.
Today, the school offers a variety of programs including after school and summer camps focusing on dance, drama, music, visual arts and more.
There are also community classes and private lessons.
“About 70% are on scholarship,” Dennis said.
The school also offers a tap class for older adults.
Dennis said the Jessye Norman School of the Arts Garden City Tappers participated in Arts in the Heart of Augusta this year and were so excited for the opportunity.
“I’m so proud of these ladies,” he said.
The organization is also involved in outreach programming.
The non-profit relies heavily on its annual fundraiser, which accounts for 15-20% of its budget.
Its 20th anniversary benefit concert will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre at Augusta University’s Summerville campus.
Its theme is Rising Stars in the Opera World and will feature Veronica Williams, Aslief Willmer, Andrew Gilstrap and Dominic Armstrong. Tickets are $40 for general admission and $25 for students. Learn more about the performers and buy tickets at the Jessye Norman School website.
While some might prefer a more contemporary program, Dennis said he feels the concert is an appropriate tribute to the woman invested in establishing the school.
Norman was a world-renowned opera singer who won countless awards including 40 honorary doctorates, five Grammy Awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama and Kennedy Center Honors.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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