One of the newest initiatives coming out of LA Opera to bring people and opera together is the LA Opera Legacy Ambassador Program. Established in fall 2022, the Ambassador Program was designed to forge deep, authentic and long-standing relationships with diverse communities and the key thought leaders influencing them. The Ambassadors will serve as bridge between LA Opera and the communities we serve as a conduit to cultivate transparent dialogue, access and exposure to opera and the arts. One of those key ambassadors is former Lakers star Norm Nixon. Norm has already dedicated much of his life to arts access. In 2001, he and his wife Debbie Allen established the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, providing elite dance and theater instruction to students of all ages at affordable rates. We recently sat down with Norm to talk about his role as an Ambassador, his connection to opera and the new Debbie Allen Middle School that champions the arts and academics.
What spoke to you about the LA Opera Ambassadors that made you want to join?
I have always enjoyed music both as a young musician in school and later as an enthusiast of various genres. That said, I have not attended the opera often. The LA Opera Legacy Ambassador Program piqued my interest as I saw it as an opportunity to introduce myself to more of the art form and to share my new experiences with others.
How do you see your role as an LAO Ambassador impacting your community?
As someone who came out of the professional sports world, I've had the privilege of a supportive, dedicated base of fans across Los Angeles. Athletes are sometimes perceived not to have interest in the arts. Sharing my interest and opera experiences allows me to invite a broad audience to follow along my LA Opera educational journey.
One of the Ambassador program’s goals is to make the performing arts more available and accessible to disproportionately represented communities. How does the Debbie Allen Middle School achieve the same goal?
My wife Debbie has been committed to making arts education accessible to marginalized communities for 23 years through the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. I've been proud to partner with her creating youth programs that serve many who otherwise would not have access to arts training and performance. The Debbie Allen Middle School was a logical extension of this work. The school is a creative institution that builds on our legacy of filling a void in arts education. We seek out students with diverse backgrounds and provide a curriculum that allows growth through both academic and artistic success. We have long known, and it is well studied, that academic achievement can be elevated through the arts. We are blessed to have supporters who share in our goal to provide access to quality education and arts training for the next generation of artists.
When and what inspired you to create this school/program?
The arts education void and Debbie's personal experience being an aspiring dancer in a community where the opportunity of experiencing the arts was marginalized due to ethnicity. She was raised in a town where Black people were not encouraged to participate in ballet. She fought to become the first Black student at the Houston Ballet Foundation during the Civil Rights movement. It was her training in dance that gave her another vision of herself and uplifted her out of the battle to a place of creative self-confidence and beauty. She didn't have the benefit of an arts education where she could train artistically and excel academically under one roof. This became the dream. Limited access to creative institutions continues today, so we offer a place for students to rise.
How does it differ from other middle schools or creative arts schools?
The Debbie Allen Middle School is unique in that we have a big vision with an intimate footprint. We attain success with our students with small class sizes and tailored instruction. We are nimble and adaptive while helping students reach their potential for high school achievement and beyond. This is important as we expand to include eighth grade students next year. The span of Debbie's career and the expertise she brings to the school also provides unparalleled performance and exposure opportunities for our young artists. For example, one of our middle school students was recently invited to perform with American Ballet Theater in their Nutcracker production after they saw his performance in our own Hot Chocolate Nutcracker.
What influence has opera and the arts had on you throughout your life?
Growing up in the South, part of my junior high school requirement was to choose to learn an instrument or join the choir. I chose to play an instrument, the trumpet, which led to playing in my high school band. From that experience, music became a way for me to find relaxation and balance. I enjoy listening to music and my favorite thing to do is play my piano in solitude and pretend I'm Marvin Gaye, James Ingram or one of the Temptations (who doesn’t?). My work in the arts over the last 20 plus years has made me understand the transformative power an arts education can have on young people, especially children of color.
What has been your favorite opera performance?
Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. It was my first and the music spoke to me.
To Learn More About the Arts Education Programs of the Debbie Allen Middle School Visit
Or Attend their Upcoming Open House on January 22nd