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The Arts Are Alive and Well

Featured Photo from The Arts Are Alive and Well

The school district’s annual showcase of artistic talent is about to turn 20. Learn more about what makes Arts Alive in Seminole! a must-see event every year.

This year, Arts Alive in Seminole! will celebrate two decades of turning the spotlight on the visual and performing arts programs in Seminole County Public Schools. Longtime School Board member Dede Schaffner, who co-founded the event in 1997, says Arts Alive was designed to serve a dual purpose.

Organizers wanted to present a gala that would showcase the considerable artistic talents of the district’s students and employees. They also wanted to help fund dance, vocal, and instrumental music, theater, and visual arts programs for future generations.

The event has been successful on both fronts. Since its inception, the gala has raised nearly $1.5 million to support the district’s arts programs, Dede says. And every year, audiences have been blown away by young singers, dancers, musicians, and artists.

“People love to see the kids perform. That’s the highlight,” says Dede. “They walk out of the event saying, ‘I can’t believe we’ve got this talent in our public schools.’”

The 20th annual gala is being held from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 12, at the Westin Lake Mary, Orlando North on International Parkway. Auditions in October were open to SCPS students and staff. Competition to make it into the show is fierce. Last year, Dede says, 104 acts auditioned and 15 were selected by judges from outside the district.

“It’s very prestigious to be in Arts Alive,” says Dede. “The students feel like that’s a feather in their caps.”

The gala’s acts have ranged from solo performers, who had no trouble commanding the stage on their own, to band and choral groups that were so big, it was a challenge to fit them in the ballroom. Some of the more unusual acts have included a   singing bus driver, an Elvis-impersonating principal, and ukulele-playing teens.

“You never know where you’re going to find talent,” Dede says.

The various acts prepare for the event separately until the dress rehearsal, which is the night before the gala. That’s when Dede turns to Mark Huffman, who works for the Disney Event Group. As artistic director of Arts Alive, Mark’s job is to turn those unrelated acts into a lively, cohesive show that will impress  the audience.

“He puts the whole show together,” Dede says, marveling at Mark’s skills. “It makes such a difference.”

First, Mark watches a run-through of each student and staff act. Then, he polishes every number, adding a little razzle-dazzle   as needed.

“I believe in young people and the talent and gifts that young people have,” Mark says. “I want them to walk away with a moment in time that they will always remember.”

Arts Alive has made a lasting impression on many students, including Kayshala Pendleton, a Florida State University freshman who is studying vocal music performance. Kayshala, an alumnus of Midway Elementary, Millennium Middle, and Lake Mary High, sang at Arts Alive several times. She vividly recalls the excitement of prepping for the glitzy gala.

“Everyone got dressed up,” Kayshala recalls. “It was the coolest experience to perform in front of people who were giving back to the schools’ arts programs. Having the arts in schools is  so essential.”

Kayshala also remembers how badly she and her classmates wanted to make the cut at auditions.

“It was a big deal for us,” she says.

Mark has seen many standout acts at Arts Alive, from pianists who were so small they could barely climb onto the piano bench to energetic dance routines by Seminole High’s Dazzlers. Maureen Maguire, co-director of the Dazzlers with her daughter, Shannon, says the event is a wonderful representation of everyone’s best work.

“It’s the full spectrum of all that the arts can be,” she says.

Mark tips his hat to Maureen and the other SCPS visual and performing arts teachers, who are dedicated to helping students reach their highest potential.

“The teachers do the lion’s share of what makes the Arts Alive in Seminole! night possible,” he says.

Each year, funds raised at the event are distributed to every school in the district for their respective arts programs. Money has been used to buy musical instruments, sheet music, uniforms, costumes, and art supplies among other needed items. Funds have also been used for music and thespian association dues, for band and chorus festivals and thespian competitions, and for Advanced Placement visual arts activities.

Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital is the presenting sponsor of the 20th annual event. In addition to the performing arts, the visual arts will also play a big role at the gala. At the reception before the show, attendees will be surrounded by a gallery of artwork created by AP visual art students. Also, two students will give live painting demonstrations. Cocktails and appetizers will be served, and guests will have the opportunity to bid on silent auction items.

After the reception, guests will enjoy a gourmet dinner in the ballroom, followed by a stellar lineup of dance, vocal, and instrumental performances by SCPS students and employees. Artwork created by elementary and middle-school students will double as the centerpieces for the tables. During the show’s intermission, there will be a live auction of big-ticket items. Bob Frier, Fox 35 news anchor and a musician himself, will be the evening’s emcee.

The event, attended by many Central Florida business and community leaders, routinely sells out. Individual tickets are $250, and tables for 10 start at $2,500.

The gala is a partnership between the school district and The Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, Dede says. The Foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises funds to enhance the performance of SCPS students and teachers.

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