The lights dimmed. The sounds of instruments tuning and the audience settling in faded as a spotlight guided Charles Cassar and Rita Gue onto the stage. They stood amidst coral and sea shells in front of a towering mural of an underwater castle, which separated them and the young artists getting in position for the first scene of The Performing Arts Academy’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
As he does before each performance, Cassar, the academy’s producer and founder, thanked and introduced Gue, the president of the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation, which has been sponsoring the academy’s productions annually for seven years. What Cassar did not know was that Gue would be announcing that the Meraux Foundation would be doubling its support this year to $30,000.
“Promoting the arts, particularly the arts in education, is critically important to our mission of improving the quality of life in St. Bernard Parish. We are grateful for the experiences The Performing Arts Academy offers students and the entire community through its Broadway-caliber productions,” said Gue, who was at the theatre to enjoy “The Little Mermaid” for the third time.
In addition to performing, students from St. Bernard Parish Public Schools work on every aspect of the production, from audio visual and staging to costumes and decor.
“I am blown away and so grateful for the Meraux Foundation’s support,” said a surprised Cassar. “Rita, wherever she goes, talks about how amazing what we do is. She has become the arts ambassador for this community.”
Cassar went on to say that Rita, her husband Floyd, and the Meraux Foundation’s support has helped keep the academy going; and the Meraux Foundation’s generosity has helped the academy attract additional support, in particular, through a state matching grant.
“I would like us all to take this moment to remember my Aunt Arlene. The Meraux resources enable us to support worthwhile programs like this, but it’s my Aunt Arlene’s vision that guides us,” said Gue who was wearing a striking red floral pattern, because her aunt Arlene Meraux, who founded the Meraux Foundation, said one should always wear red when making big announcements.
The academy’s performances take place in the state-of-the-art Cultural Arts Center of Chalmette High School, for which the Meraux Foundation had donated a $1.8 million.