Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a Dream Come True

WI Staff Report | 9/7/2011, 8:39 p.m.

Funding for the Center was raised primarily through private donations, in tandem with the overall Musicians' Village project. Pate reports "In addition to the almost 70,000 volunteers and donations from around the world, both the Center and the Village have received tremendous support from the Dolan family and Madison Square Garden, the Dave Matthews Band, Warner/Nonesuch Records and many others in the music community."

The Dave Matthews Band Musician's Lounge has been named in acknowledgment of the group's support; one classroom will be named in honor of Moe Dallolio, a big band musician in New York who became a Long Island music educator, and whose family is helping to fund programming at the Center; and Hurwitz Way, in the Village's neighboring Toddler Park, is named for Robert Hurwitz, President of Nonesuch Records.

Further support will come from American Girl, which is celebrating the debut of two New Orleans dolls, Cecile Rey and Marie-Grace Gardner, with the release of the song "A Lot Like Me" by Connick's 13-year-old daughter Kate Connick. All proceeds from sales of the single will benefit the Center.

Yet, as Jean-Pierre points out, support has not been confined to the arts community. "I call it 'the Center that love built,'" she says, "because every day people are reaching out via the internet or just showing up to help. For example, a family that had been here previously to help construct the Village recently came back to donate a trombone that their son had outgrown. So many of the70,000 people who helped build the Village continue to support us."

The potential impact of the Center, both on the neighboring community and New Orleans as a whole, is limitless. "All of the things that Ellis taught us can take place at the Center," Connick notes. Branford Marsalis envisions "Kids who live in the Upper Ninth, not just Village residents, riding their bikes over and taking advantage. And the opportunity for Village residents to pass information along - not just to kids, but to the rest of us, and not just at the Center but 'on the stoop' - will be just great."

"We're beginning with a focus on the children of Village residents," Jean-Pierre explains, "but the problem of access to arts instruction is so great that we've already reached out to children in two nearby schools that no longer have music programs. We can also provide space for Village residents to come together and address community issues, as well as a quality recording facility for local musicians. One of our four full-time staff is a trained audio engineer, and internships in this area are part of our vision for the future."

Pate sees the Center as integral to the core Habitat for Humanity concept of neighborhood stabilization. "What makes Musicians' Village unique is the people who bought the houses," he explains, "and we've already been approached by other Habitat branches and independent groups about how to make this model work for visual artists, native craftspeople and other artists. The Center reinforces the effort of residents transmitting their knowledge and demonstrating the positive impact of sharing their heritage."