Big name performers raise funds for Gloster Art Project

Published 12:05 am Thursday, July 20, 2017

By Christian Coffman

NATCHEZ — A Hollywood actor and a Grammy-award winning singer will take the stage Friday night, but the real stars of the evening will be the children of the Gloster Arts Project Summer Camp.

Actor Danny Glover and jazz singer Cassandra Wilson along with percussionist Will Calhoun will perform to help raise money for the annual project which teaches children about the arts.

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Tickets for the event, which includes dinner and performances, are $20 for adults and $10 for students ages 14 and older.

Children under 14 are admitted for free.

The event will be at 6:30 p.m. the Empire theater at 243 Captain Gloster Drive in Gloster.

The summer program started on July 10 and will end on July 27.

The Gloster Arts Project is a non-profit organization that benefits children who have little or no access to the arts.

The project is one of 1,029 National Endowment for the Arts 2017 grant recipients. This year’s grant was for $25,000.

Founding Director Margaret Porter Troupe said professional artists are brought to teach rural Mississippi children ages 6 to 17 in a free summer arts camp.

Children are taught by professional artists, including Glover, Wilson, Calhoun, novelist Terry McMillan, physicist and musician Stephon Alexander.

Children get to ask questions of the artists and meet them up close in a small setting.

“I bring them in and make presentations to expose (the children) to creative people who are just like them, in the sense that they come from the same background but have achieved success,” Troupe said. “They can see these people as role models and people just like them.”

Troupe said the project started in 2014. This year 59 children from Gloster and surrounding communities are participating.

Glover, who starred in the “Lethal Weapon” film series, said Margaret and her husband Quincy had done much for Gloster.

“I’ve been supportive of various things that she has done, in bringing artists to communities,” Glover said. “She’s played a really responsible role.”

Glover said he contributes to the project because he believes it is important to encourage young people to be interested in the arts since it has a far-reaching impact on other aspects of life.

“What you learn about the arts … community, generosity, love and everything else, you learn that in a different way,” Glover said. “Most people would want to be an artist to escape the life you were born in, in this case. They all benefit from art. They become a story, a collective story.”

This year will be Glover’s third trip to Southwest Mississippi to help with the program.

Troupe said she started the camp from an idea of giving her hometown of Gloster some cultural growth.

“I came home, and I saw the condition of the town, saw the children with nothing to do in the summer,” Troupe said. “Children were asking Santa for books and musical instruments.”

Troupe said she knew firsthand how the arts are critical in stimulating the economy.

“I wanted (children) to meet interesting people that would influence them in some way … bring people into the community,” Troupe said.

Troupe said that besides the more well-known artists, children will also be helped by other professionals and artists from New York.

“They work in ensemble with the children,” Troupe said. “The children get to have workshops with each of these artists. They will produce poetry and art, silk screen printing and learn how to play guitar.”

Physicist and best-selling author Alexander said he spoke to the children last week about the connections between music and science.

His first year at the camp, Alexander said the children were very interested in what he had to say.

“The kids were very attentive … they couldn’t stop asking questions,” Alexander said.

She said the arts are essential to giving people self-esteem and confidence.

“You are giving them permission to express themselves,” Troupe said. “Once people see the value in what they say, it gives them a boost of confidence and causes them to become more positive and productive.”

On the final day of the camp the children put on a performance to show their parents what they’ve learned, Troupe said.

The free, end-of-the-year performance by students is called the From Bebop to Hip Hop performance.

Children will read poetry, play guitar and drums, dance and perform skits, all of their creation.

“The idea is to give them a platform to express their creativity and their own ideas,” Troupe said. “I want them to have access to the arts that’s more organic and alive than manufactured by something else.”