Baritone Thomas West receives 2018 Alumni Leadership Grant

“I have watched our society become more and more divided each day. I have listened to people talk about feeling voiceless. I have seen stereotyping become popular and bitterness override common sense. And in the midst of it all, I have wondered if there was anything that I could do to encourage people to put their differences aside and to have difficult conversations again.” Thomas West, 2018 Alumni Leadership Grant recipient

The artists of Collaborative Arts Ensemble (L to R): Victoria Pollack (actress), Matthew Maimone (piano), Jocelyn Zhu (violin), Thomas West (Founder, Baritone, and 2018 From the Top Alumni Leadership Grant recipient)

21-year-old baritone Thomas West is the founder of the Collaborative Arts Ensemble (CAE), a group of performance artists dedicated to fostering dialogue in the American South. West, who hails from Tennessee, is currently attending The Juilliard School and appeared on NPR’s From the Top in 2012. He cites the From the Top arts leadership training he received as the moment when he first discovered what it means to be an artist-citizen and arts leader.

“We met Thomas in 2012 when he performed on our radio show in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee,” said Shea Mavros, Director of Education and Community Outreach at From the Top. “After the show, we visited a local middle school, and Thomas was profoundly affected to realize that students in his community didn’t have access to instruments to study music. After his From the Top experience, he decided he wanted to do something about it. So, at the age of 16, he started an initiative called Let Beauty Awaken as a way to raise awareness of lack of arts funding and resources in his community. Since then, he has exemplified what it means to be an arts leader, using his music and skills to serve communities all over the country. We are so proud to support his latest project.”

About the Collaborative Arts Ensemble (CAE)

Using music, text, and physical movement, the highly-trained performance artists of Collaborative Arts Ensemble create and share a story that speaks to a time in history, a social justice issue, or a question unique to the local community. CAE’s Letters from the American South debuted in Georgia in 2017. It placed Southern musical compositions – everything from Stephen Foster to Charles Ives – in dialogue with poems, letters, and literature from Southern writers, such as James Baldwin, Harper Lee, and Bryan Stevenson.

The From the Top Alumni Leadership Grant will support the expansion of the project to schools and concert venues in Alabama and Mississippi in 2018–2019.

“Our stories are told by placing various art forms into conversation with one another – such as text spoken by an actor being paired with music played by a pianist, or a dancer moving to music played by a violinist,” said West. “We believe that these collaborations offer our audiences multiple pathways into every story shared. We structure our performances this way because we believe every person responds to stories differently and that multiple perspectives empower presentations to avoid heavy­-handedness.”

The From the Top Alumni Leadership Grant is funded by the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation, with additional support from the Karma for Cara Foundation.

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