Sally Perry has always been passionate about the arts.
The Baton Rouge native spent her early years learning the piano before pursuing undergraduate and Master’s degrees in vocal performance at LSU. From 1993 to 1998, she served as the Director of Development for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, she serves as the current Executive Director of The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) Institute and the latest member of the LSU Honors College Advisory Council.
Perry, who was also recently chosen to join the National Arts Strategies‘ highly competitive Chief Executive Program, decided to join the Council after learning about the Honors College through fellow Council member and NOCCA Board Vice President James A. Brown.
“Of course as an avid LSU supporter, LSU is still my passion — I bleed purple and gold,” she said. “I think [the Honors College] is a wonderful environment and one that would be a natural fit for our students.
As director of The NOCCA Institute, Perry helps to provide supplemental funding and advocacy for the renowned NOCCA school, a world-class educational institution that has been offering qualified Louisiana high school students the opportunity to receive professional arts training since 1973.
“It’s such an incredible job — I hope this is where I end up retiring,” she said. “It’s an amazing place to work; it’s a very creative, innovative environment, being surrounded by such talented high school students and faculty.”
NOCCA admits students solely on the basis of an arts audition and provides intensive instruction in Classical Music, Creative Writing, Culinary Arts, Dance, Drama, Jazz, Media Arts, Musical Theatre, Theatre Design, Vocal Music, and Visual Arts to students from public, private, and parochial schools across Louisiana.
The conservatory, which offers free tuition to all of its students, boasts a long list of distinguished alumni that includes jazz greats Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard and Harry Connick, Jr.; actors Wendell Pierce and Anthony Mackie; and opera star Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet.
Recently, NOCCA launched a new full-day, diploma-granting option for its students, which takes an innovative approach to teaching math, science and the humanities and aims to create better artists and citizens by educating the whole child.
“It’s an innovative academic curriculum like no other in the country that is based on what we call NOCCA’s ‘Creative DNA,’ the pedagogy that has made our forty-year-old arts program successful,” Perry said. “These days you hear all about arts being infused into academics, but we’re infusing academics into our arts training.”
Since NOCCA students’ academic scores are not considered in the admissions process, the classes are incredibly diverse, with ninth grades students ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen.
“We’re an arts conservatory, so the one thing we know is that our students have a passion for the arts, but they didn’t all have a passion for their academic subjects when they first came here,” Perry said. “So one of our goals for the Academic Studio is to create a passion for math, science, and history that they may have never experienced at their other schools.”
According to Perry, the close relationship that Honors College students are able to develop with their professors is reminiscent of NOCCA’s master-apprentice model of teaching.
“Mentorship is probably the key ingredient in why our students become so successful,” she said. “It’s really called an initiation model. If I’m a dancer and my teacher here has been a dancer all of his life, it’s the master initiating the apprentice into the world they think they want to live. And it works the same way with math and science.”
Perry said that she views the Honors College as a really important link to NOCCA’s new Academic Studio classes.
“Here at NOCCA, students thrive on collaboration and great discussion and respect for each other, even though they may differ in opinions and backgrounds,” she said. It’s just an environment here where you’re always striving to learn more and contribute to the community. So I think that the Honors College is similar [to NOCCA] in that environment … and I just think it would be perfect for these kids who just thrive on learning, collaboration, creative thinking, and problem solving.”