Milestone birthdays generally provide an opportunity to reflect upon where we’ve been with a chance to look ahead toward unchartered territory. In this case, one cherished New Orleans institution turning 40 merits a yearlong celebration with a series of parties planned from a large extended family.

The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts officially kicked off its 40th with a party hosted at the stylishly cool Bellocq in Hotel Modern on St. Charles Avenue. The call out went to former students, faculty and staffers of the school, and many answered with a show of support for one of the finest regional pre-professional art schools in the country.

NOCCA was founded in 1973 by a group of educators, artists and community leaders who saw a need for a facility that would nurture and cultivate young talent. That vision helped pave the way for youngsters such as Harry Connick Jr., Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Wendell Pierce and so many more who have gone onto to successful professional careers in the arts.

And while not every student who passes through NOCCA’S doors is destined for stardom, more than 95 percent of the school’s graduates are accepted into colleges and conservatories across the country. The intrinsic value of an education rich in the arts statistically seems to educate a student for academic and professional success regardless of their chosen field.

Many educators understand the importance of an arts education, and NOCCA President and CEO Kyle Wedberg takes the responsibility of his charges seriously, all 632 of them. Out of that enrollment number, 175 students attend NOCCA on a full-time basis.

Wedberg is passionate about the role of NOCCA as a cultural incubator.

“We are growing the next generation of artists, some of whom will go on to become future business owners and CEOs who understand the value of employing professional artists. By readjusting our priorities as a community where our businesses hire and compensate artists on a par equal to other professionals, we preserve our culture for the future.”

It is Wedberg’s belief that this shift in mindset is within our grasp and that the next generation of young people will pave the way by affording future artists an opportunity for gainful employment right here in New Orleans. Too many of our talented youngsters must venture outside of our city to secure meaningful employment where their talents are valued and compensated accordingly.

Whether your time at NOCAA over the past 40 years was spent at the school’s various locations such as UNO, the New Orleans Museum of Art, on Perrier Street in Uptown New Orleans or at the current Faubourg Marigny location, NOCCA’s 40th provides alums and staffers with a special cause for celebration and a chance to measure how far we’ve come. With the proper support and the community’s commitment to nurture our own, our way of life is insured for generations to come.

To learn more about the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts or for updates on all planned events, please visit Happy 40th, NOCCA!

La Vie de Ville captures city life New Orleans style every Thursday for The New Orleans Advocate’s Crescent City News section. For coverage of your community event, please submit request with details in advance to Photos and story by Roberta Grove.