By early next year, students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts won’t have to take science classes in the jazz studio, and art classes can stop sharing their space with freshman humanities students.
Lunch can move from the Chartres Street courtyard into a proper cafeteria just off the professional kitchen and restaurant that will train future chefs and restaurateurs in the culinary arts.
NOCCA, the arts-based public school established four decades ago, has received a $1.5 million grant from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and $500,000 from the Solomon family.
The gifts will go toward a $9 million expansion, which will be completed in January and will accommodate the general studies and culinary arts curriculums that were added in 2011.
Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and Gary Solomon Jr. made the announcement Monday in the 50,000-square-foot NOCCA Forum now being renovated on Press Street, just across Chartres from the school’s main campus.
The hall, a renovated historic warehouse that will be used for social, instructional and performance space, is lined on both sides with classrooms for the school’s science, math and language arts classes. At the north end of the hall will be a full-service kitchen, which also will connect to a restaurant called Press Street Station.
“To see this coming into fruition — a full butcher shop, full bake shop, kitchen labs, café … this is a real space, this is the real deal,” said Lagasse, whose foundation helped get the culinary arts curriculum started. “For high school students to have an opportunity to work in an environment like this is incredible.”
Solomon, a 2004 NOCCA graduate, said his time pursuing a theater design degree at NOCCA laid the foundation for his theater degree from New York University and the theater production business he co-founded in 2009, the Solomon Group.
“In a real way, that started here on this campus,” he said.
Solomon said that when he attended NOCCA, students often had to split their day between NOCCA and traditional schools in order to take the math, science and social studies classes they needed.
He said that while having to sacrifice and go the extra mile fits with the kind of creative, passion-driven student who enrolls at NOCCA, students are better off getting a complete curriculum at one school.
NOCCA, a public school run by the state, doesn’t screen applicants for academics, though they must audition in their chosen artistic field to be admitted. The school offers degrees in culinary arts, dance, filmmaking and audio production, music, theater arts, visual arts and creative writing.
Kyle Wedberg, NOCCA’s president and chief executive officer, said a recent study found that only 17 percent of Louisiana’s high school graduates have a college degree 10 years later, while 98 percent of NOCCA’s graduates go on to college.
He said the school’s 116 graduates last year got $17.4 million in scholarships for higher education, and the expansion will go a long way to furthering its mission of allowing students to find their passion and pursue it.
“ ‘Thank you’ seems like a small statement on this occasion,” he said of the donations.
Solomon said he began discussing the contribution with his family, which has been associated with the movie theater business for generations, about two years ago. Solomon’s father, Gary Solomon, is on the board of the Lagasse Foundation, which began working with NOCCA after Hurricane Katrina.
Sally Perry, executive director of the NOCCA Institute, which spearheaded the renovation project, said the group has a capital campaign underway to raise the rest of the money to fund the expansion, which was paid for by a 21-year, no-interest loan.
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