Trombone Shorty returned to the White House Tuesday to join students from New Orleans in announcing an expansion of the federal Turnaround Arts Initiative, which is aimed at enhancing arts programs in low-performing schools and will be coming to three more Louisiana schools.
Tuesday afternoon’s event featured First Lady Michelle Obama who spoke before introducing a talent show which included a surprise visit from President Obama. It also included a performance from Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and students from ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in Uptown New Orleans.
Actress Alfre Woodard, who has been an artist in residence at the school the past two years as part of the Turnaround Arts program, was also part of the New Orleans group’s performance. It included a second line, emotional moments depicting pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina life, and a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” At the end of the program, one of the students could be seen crying, which elicited a hug from Mrs. Obama.
“Our schools are alive and they are energized,” Woodard told the audience after the performance. “They’re humming with all these bright ideas from our kids and our heroic teachers and principals.”
ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy principal Ron Gubitz introduced the students by touting the value of arts in education.
“It helps students engage, it helps them get their mind right so that they can come to school with excitement and do what we know they can do. That’s why our students are running in the door during Mardi Gras season, practicing their instruments so they can go marching for up to five, six, seven miles in a parade….Turnaround Arts has given our school something to really rally around.”
At the event, The White House announced the Turnaround Arts initiative, a project of The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, will expand into six states this year, including three Louisiana schools in partnership with the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts. The foundation is named for famed Louisiana artist George Rodrigue, who died last year. Rodrigue’s son, Jacques, who serves as executive director of the foundation, also attended Tuesday’s White House event.
With the expansion, the Turnaround Arts program will be introduced at the Homer A. Plessy Community School in the Ninth Ward, officials said. Woodard and Andrews will “adopt” the school and work with students to support their arts education. Plessy’s Head of School Joan Reilly was in Washington for the announcement.
The Turnaround Arts program is funded through a public-private partnership, providing over $5 million over the next three years from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Ford Foundation and other private foundations and companies.
Trombone Shorty is one of 15 new artists taking part in the program, including singers Elton John, Marc Anthony, Josh Groban, music mogul Russell Simmons and filmmaker Tim Robbins. They join a list of artists already working with the program, including Woodard, Forest Whitaker, Sarah Jessica Parker and Yo-Yo Ma.