Jessye Norman School of the Arts

Jessye Norman School of the Arts has an after school program and summer program that are absolutely FREE!  There is an extensive application/interview process, but there are no monetary restrictions. Whether the student has a family income that is low, or upwards of six figures, the process is the same and every student has access to the same wonderful, creative, artistic, resources!

This picture represents a portion of one of the painted pianos in front of Jessye Norman. There are painted piano’s around Augusta, GA as part of their Painted Piano Project, which encourages people in the community to explore and appreciate the arts.

These beautiful pieces of art and potential musical energy remind me of a YouTube video I saw of a homeless man who’s life was changed by playing a piano in his community: The Story of Donald Gould – The Homeless Piano Player. While this story shows an amazing result of pianos in the community, each piano the Jessye Norman School of the Arts provided to the community envelops the potential to inspire everyone that spies it.

Jessye Norman is not just about the arts, but is an integral part of our community. They collaborate with several organizations to increase exposure to the arts and creativity, for everyone.

I’ve visited twice now, once before the kids came back from their break and once to see the kids and staff in action.

I neglected to ask if I could take pictures, and so I took a picture of the January photo on their school created calendar. Students from the summer camp photojournalism classes created the photos and interviews inside the calendar.

I put this monthly piece of artwork on the wall over my work desk. What an inspirational way to start every day!

I’ll start with my visit before the kids.

Gary Dennis, executive director welcomed me to the school and we discussed some of the logistics. He shared information and was realistically supportive and encouraging. He suggested I come in and spend some time at the school while the students are there.

One of the main things that sticks out about Jessye Norman is it is completely free. I wanted to do this for my school as well, but have changed to tuition based because it is very difficult to get complete funding for a program. Amazingly, Jessye Norman has managed to keep their after school and summer programs free.

They have a part time grant writer, and everyone helps to write upwards of 25-30 grants per year. The grants and individual contributions make the free programs possible. Gary shared with me that after a few years, nonprofits are harder to sustain, because many people are willing to support new nonprofits, but then move on to support newer nonprofits. He suggested I join someone else that has resources instead of starting a school on my own as there are finite funding opportunities in the nonprofit world.

He also made me think about and state the need in the community I plan on filling. We discussed how my school has to fill a need that isn’t already being filled. I still feel I’m not explaining my philosophy quite right, and I need to spend time refining my “elevator” speech. We had a long conversation though, and I was able to explain what it is that I want to accomplish. We discussed the future direction of education and how changes are coming, which was encouraging as well.

When it comes to staffing, Jessye Norman chooses teachers that align with their creative philosophy. The staffs’ skills and passion to teach the young people who show up daily to learn are paramount. Staff are flexible and fill a myriad of needs as they arise. Every staff member wears multiple hats and contributes their strengths to the program.

While “Arts” is in the name of the school, they also provide academic help through tutoring.  Students grades are not a determining factor for getting accepted into the school, but they must maintain a C average in their core classes in order to remain a part of the school. In this way Jessye Norman helps support and create balanced young people who will blossom into a balanced, creative adults.





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