by Michael J. Roberts
Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.
The Chicago Academy For The Arts is celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year. This unique high school is a beacon in the Chicago community as it nurtures artists from cross cultures in a safe environment. The school was recently honored with the John F. Kennedy Center National School of Distinction and its graduates have gone on to great success in a variety of fields, not just in the arts. I spoke with Pamela Jordan, the Head of School, who discusses this amazing institution and the students that make it so special.
MJR: (Michael J. Roberts) What is the mission of the Chicago Academy for the Arts?
PJ: (Pamela Jordan) The mission is quite simple and has been the same for 30 years and that is that the Chicago Academy for the Arts prepares young artists for life through rigorous academic education and professional arts training. I think that really says it all.
MJR: Where do you get your teachers from?
PJ: Well that is really very interesting. We really look for passion in their particular subject matter whether academic or art. It is just a very unique environment.
MJR: What is the process of a student getting into the Chicago Academy for the Arts?
PJ: It is quite daunting when you think about it. The first thing they do is that they have an audition or a portfolio review in one of six areas; music, theatre, dance, visual arts and media arts. In media arts they can be a filmmaker or a writer. The first thing they have to do is prepare for that audition. Then they will advance to the next level which is the independent school entrance exam. They have to show us their academic ability and we will take a look at their transcripts. Then 6 to 8 people review this information. Most importantly, we are looking for students that want to participate in the dual curriculum that we engage in. It can't be "I just want to dance but I don't want to learn science".
MJR: How has the school evolved in the 30 since it has been open?
PJ: There were 5 founders of the school. Most people will tell you that it was Essee Kupcinent that was the force behind CAA. The evolution has been very interesting. It started out that this type of education would be free to families as a public education, but I think over time we really learned the value of our independence and our diversity. As we encounter the 21st century we have the ability to communicate across cultures, genders and nationalities. And then there is the independence of our curriculum. I call it a modern day miracle. You see these young people come in with such passion, even though a student may only know hip-hop dancing (which we don't teach) and in four years they leave this program and they are dancing with the Joffrey Ballet, The New York City Ballet or Palabolous. It is the culture of the school, the commitment of the teachers and how they nurture the students to go on to do such amazing things. We had one student that was a master saxophone player who is now a nuclear physicist.
MJR: So what can expect to see on January 31st at the CAA Showcase?
PJ: I am personally very excited about the Showcase. You know our school was designated a National School of Distinction by the Kennedy Center. I will never forget getting that call from the Kennedy Center. We were invited to perform there but we could only select 20 of our students to perform. I wasn't thrilled with having to pick out only 20 from the entire student base, but then I thought those 20 represent the entire whole, so I brought the other 140 along to Washington to watch the 20 perform. The Showcase represents the entire school and all the departments. You will get to see what makes us special, not just in dance and music but visual arts as well. You will see the culture and the camaraderie of the school.
MJR: What has the school taught you as a human being since you have worked there?
PJ: You know what, I do a lot of interviews and no one has ever asked me that! I came to this school in 1990 and left in 1994 to pursue my dream of being an opera singer in Austria. The head master at the time asked me if I wanted to take a leave of absence and I said "no, I quit; I am going to be an opera singer!" Well being in a foreign country made me realize how special CAA really is and the nurturing environment. What CAA has taught me is to believe in people and the extraordinary things they do. They are miracles every day.
MJR: What is the most important fact about the school that you would like our readers to know?
PJ: That our school is a safe environment where students can thrive. It doesn't matter of their gender, color or sexual preference, our school is an extraordinary environment. Artists, by their very nature, never feel safe, so for them to have a school like this where there are no judgments on them personally can really allow them to focus on their craft and become great artists and sensational people.
The Chicago Academy For The Arts will present its "Showcase" on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at the Goodman Theatre. For more information, please visit www.chicagoartsacademy.org.