First, a group of arts management students traveled to the world-acclaimed Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland to experience the world of theater. Then, another group traveled to Venice, Italy, to attend the Venice Biennale and see the work of hundreds of artists. This year, eight more students with an interest in music recently returned from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The all-expense-paid trip, made possible by an MCLA supporter, allowed the students - who were selected through a competitive process - to attend live performances of music, experience the unique culture and heritage of New Orleans and see firsthand how the Festival was run, according to Jonathan Secor, director of special programs at MCLA.
Started in 1970, the Festival showcases artists who have made music history alongside many of Louisiana's equally respected musical artists. Each year, this event presents artists from varied genres like gospel, blues, traditional and contemporary jazz, rock, pop, R and B, Cajun, zydeco and more.
Taking a group of students to the Festival, which features a broad spectrum of music on nine different stages, was something Secor wanted to do for quite some time.
For eight hours a day, music by artists including the Eagles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Foo Fighters and John Mayer was performed outdoors. In the evenings, the students headed downtown to listen to music greats such as Dr. John and Henry Butler.
"The biggest advantage to a trip like this is that it definitely expanded their knowledge and understanding of different musical genres. Every day, they would chose music they wanted to see and every day they would see music that I chose," Secor explained.
"At the end of the day, some of their favorites were things that they weren't expecting to like - like a Blues singer, a gypsy jazz band, or Irma Thomas doing the work of the great Mahalia Johnson and listening to some great gospel."
The experience did more than broaden the student's musical knowledge base. Because they study arts management, they learned how the Festival was run.
"We spent a lot of time looking at how to create the theatrical experience - that it's not just what you put on stage, but what you wrap around it," Secor said. This included the food vendors, how patrons checked in at the box office and how 400,000 people were accommodated each day of the two-week-long event.
"Since I am both an arts management and a music major, I was really able to see different and successful ways in which a legendary festival was being run," said Melody Rolph '14 of Francestown, N.H.
Besides the music, visiting New Orleans was a great experience in and of itself.
"One of the wonderful things about New Orleans is that it's a very European city. It was a whole different culture. We'd go to restaurants where they'd have foods and sauces and spices that they'd never imagined. It was a whole different world, especially coming from the North and entering that Southern culture which was heavily influenced by the French, Africans, Native Americans and the Celtics.
"New Orleans became this melting pot of multiple cultures. That shows up in everything they do - from the food to the music to the architecture," Secor explained. "The students had a fantastic time."