Big things on horizon for West Island performing arts organization

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It’s been a big year for West Island native Akilah Newton, founder of the non-profit Overture with the Arts (OWTA) organization.

Overture With The Arts founder Akilah Newton (left) leads a successful West Island performing arts program.

It’s been a big year for West Island native Akilah Newton, founder of the non-profit Overture with the Arts (OWTA) organization.

In May, OWTA – which offers education in music, dance, drama and vocal training through after-school programs and school tours - received a Montreal Community Cares Award.

“We couldn’t have been happier to be the recipient of a Montreal Community Cares Award – it’s an incredible honour,” said Newton, of the black tie event that took place at the Corona Theatre to honor Montreal’s unsung heroes. “For several years Overture with the Arts has worked very hard to build programs and fundraise to run our programs. It’s nice to be recognized for our work.”

In April, OWTA celebrated its fifth anniversary with a fashion show fundraiser called Heart.  The fundraiser -- which saw student models join forces with Montreal based couture designer, Astri Prugger of Astri Prugger Design and custom jewelry designer, Trink Jewelry by Tracy Gartner  --raised more than $2,000 for  OWTA’s after school arts program.

“The last five years have been so rewarding, we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our fifth anniversary, said Newton, noting that OWTA is one of the partners of the Community Learning Centre at Riverdale High School, with support of the Pearson Educational Foundation.

Lester B. Pearson School Board chairman Suanne Stein Day said Newton’s work is of great value to students from all walks of life.

“Overture with the Arts contributes so much to our schools and gives many students the opportunity to experience arts and culture in a safe and comfortable setting,” she said noting that OWTA’s mandate is completely in line with the school board’s strategic plan and Arts and Culture policy.

“It’s win-win for everyone involved,” added Stein Day.

This past year also marks the fourth year that OWTA toured the Black History Month initiative, Songs of Freedom (SoF) to high schools in the Montreal area and Eastern Ontario.

As well, for the first time this year, the tour -- animated by Montreal musician & 2011 Grammy nominee, Jonathan Emile ­ -- went international, visiting schools in both the UK and Germany, and will do so again next fall.

OWTA also introduced Songs & Stories to elementary schools this year as did OWTA’s S.P.E.A.K (Self-esteem, Pressure, Empathy, Attitude, Knowledge) program which gives teens the opportunity to voice their concerns through trust-building activities, music and visual arts projects.

Additionally, OWTA launched Overture Radio at Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds. The student-run program encourages youth to find their voice, promotes creative thinking and inspires self-expression.

Newton, a graduate of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which was co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney, said that it was there that she came up with the idea of establishing OWTA, to give young people the opportunity to explore the arts.

“Nourishing minds through exploration of the arts … leads to improved academic results and more engaged members of society,” she said.

Barbara Freeston, president of the Lester B. Pearson Foundation which provides funding for LBPSB school initiatives beyond the scope of government funding, lauded the work Newton does through OWTA.

“Akilah is an inspiring young woman, she is constantly coming up with new activities that engage a youth population that often turns to the street through lack of hope, lack even of awareness of the possibilities that surround us,” said Freeston.“Her cultural and inter-cultural works are a huge asset to the Riverdale Community Learning Centre and the north-east Pierrefonds-Dollard community at large,” she added.

Even as the school year comes to an end, Newton is preparing to host OWTA’s second Summer Breeze: Acoustic Music Concert series.

Beginning on Friday, July 4 at Starbucks in Chapters Pointe-Claire, OWTA will host free concerts to showcase local talent. There are five shows in total, every second Friday in July and August.  

“The past five years have been an incredible ride for Overture with the Arts – we started in 2009 with one program and four participants enrolled,” Newton said. “Fast forward to 2014 and we have seven programs involving thousands of students. This is only the beginning and we’re excited to see what the next five years will bring," she said.

(Source: Lester B. Pearson School Board)

Geographic location: West Island

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