Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dallas Violinist Nurtures the Musical Talents of Youth

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Richmond Punch (far left) poses with participants
of the Dallas Urban Youth Orchestra
Photo courtesy of Richmond Punch
Violinist Richmond Punch is quickly becoming a recognizable name and face in Texas and beyond. The Founder of Richmond Punch Productions, he has traveled the world to perform for audiences consisting of up to 16,000 people.  The 30-year-old musician also lends his time and talents to nurture youth through the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra, a program of the Punch Family Foundation. The philanthropic entrepreneur graciously shared details with Gulf Coast Philanthropy about his family’s charitable organization, as well as his journey to becoming a highly sought-after Violinist. Scroll to the end of this feature to view a performance by the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra.

Gulf Coast Philanthropy: You were essentially a child prodigy. When did you first pick up the violin and what prompted you to continue playing?

Richmond Punch: I was introduced to the violin at age 5 in public Montessori school by a teacher with a amazing dedication to each one of her students. It was in that environment, combined with the nurturing upbringing of my mother, that allowed me to fall in love with the instrument on a personal level. After participating in my first summer camp at the University of Texas at Austin, I studied at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, Southern Methodist University Pre-College, and Aspen Music Festival. I also got to play in England, France and Scotland with Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. Combined with hard work, this type of exposure and the free lessons offered by a program of the Dallas Symphony helped me to be able to go to my first choice school, The Juilliard School, which is one of the most prestigious schools in the world. I also completed my master's degree at Yale University, a peaceful place to hone your skills academically and artistically.

GCP: When did you launch Richmond Punch Productions and how has it grown since then?

RP: In 2005 I started Richmond Punch Productions after facing difficulty finding a job as a member of a major symphony orchestra. When I became an entreprenuer, I had only a violin for the events I wanted to do and some jazz and classical music under my belt. Now, in 2011, I have Violin, Violin with DJ, Jazz Band, String Quartet. At a recent event I played everything from New Orleans Jazz and Devil Went Down to Georgia to I Want You Back [by Jackson 5] and Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling.

GCP: Who are your musical influences?

RP: I love the music of “Stuff” Smith, my favorite violinist, but I am also influenced by Itzhak Perlman, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Quest Love, Esperanza Spalding and others.

GCP: When was the Punch Family Foundation started, and why was it launched?

RP: Punch Family Foundation was started meet my financial needs to be able to graduate from Juilliard and Yale, and it continued thereafter because many musicians back home in Dallas had similar needs. We sought a way to help others and began with a partial college scholarship initiative and then continued with the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra. We also are excited about the growth of our community service and doing workshops, concerts and summer camps in Houston and around the U.S.

GCP: Do other companies collaborate with you to support your Foundation? 

RP: Yes they do. In 2007 we started what is today our largest program, Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra. In transitioning from giving scholarships to training students in an orchestra, we needed to find a place to teach our Youth. Since 2007, The Trinity Trust, which funds the Trinity River Project in Dallas, lent their space to our non-profit. Next, we were able to use space at a church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and we've spent the last two years at The Point Center for Arts and Education at C.C. Young retirement community. At present we are searching for a new home in Dallas because of C.C. Youngs need to bring more seniors into living spaces and provide activities for the seniors themselves. These partnerships have worked well. In each venue we would give free community performances as a thank you for their lower rent and fully donated properties for our use. Since we presently searching for a new practice facility, we are asking for any suggestions in the Dallas, Uptown, North Dallas and other centralized locations so that we can find a new home for our 2011-2012 Season.

GCP: There are essentially three programs associated with the Foundation, but you are specifically the Artistic Director of the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra program. Tell me about this initiative and your involvement with youth.

RP: Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra is a music program for youth ages 5-18. We teach kids orchestra, private lessons, music theory through classical music and styles of music that young people today are listening to. We want each kid to have a chance at a music scholarship to college and our focus is Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass. We work with Southern Methodist University and other local colleges where we seek volunteers and pay other teachers to teach our students. A Violin is as low as $100.00. We welcome sponsors for all our areas of need.

GCP: Growing up in Dallas, were there any individuals and/or community organizations that nurtured your academic and skill development? 

RP: Yes. Individuals who have made a difference in my life include Isabell Cottrell. Organizations such as United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Sponsors of the Dallas Symphony and local arts in Dallas, The Brotherhood Inc. of Anchorage Alaska, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters Dallas and National have also made a difference in my life from giving my single parent mother resources to hiring me for corporate and special events entertainment.

GCP: What is your philosophy about giving back?

RP: Great question. I donate to many causes as I have constantly expanded my window of opportunity and I notice that my life and career is growing as a result. My philosophy is this: give back to something new such as Punch Family Foundation, give wholeheartedly and your best, and expect a return because it will happen.

GCP: What is the ideology by which you live by each day?

RP: Well I am a Christian and I believe that God has placed me on this earth for a reason. I also believe that even if I can touch one person in an audience of 10,000, I am doing God’s work. I am able to do it in so many styles of music, venues, and reach so many cultures. It is an honor to do something you love. God is good!

To learn more about the Punch Family Foundation, please visit the organization's website.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Art & Inspiration: Houston Art Gallery Supports Local Lecture Programs

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

The most effective initiatives often utilize the appeal of popular social events to inspire and motivate community development. Houston’s Wade Wilson Art Gallery is doing just that: leveraging the vibrant art community to support nonprofit programs. Founded by longtime art critic and enthusiast Wade Wilson in 2006, the gallery is located in the city’s historic Montrose area. Wade Wilson Art Gallery showcases painters, photographers and sculptors whose work “reflects current movements in international art circles”.

 “Houston has an extraordinary art community and a great community period,” Wilson said. “It’s rare that you’ll ask someone to step up and they don’t - that’s what I love about philanthropy in this town.”

Wade Wilson,
Owner of Wade Wilson Art Gallery

Photo courtesy of Wade Wilson
Wade Wilson Art Gallery is one of many supporters of the Brilliant Lecture Series, a Houston-based non-profit organization whose aim is to motivate and inspire by presenting national and international leaders, role models, philanthropists, artists, humanitarians, authors, and entrepreneurs. 

Scott Brogan, Founding Director of the Brilliant Lecture Series, said the organization accomplishes this goal through its educational programs, including an International Youth Leadership Exchange, the Brill Talks in-school interactive dialogues, and the quarterly Conversation with… series. Previous speakers include international luminaries Diana Ross, Sir Sidney Poitier, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Global Colors Founder Barton Brooks and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan to name just a few.

“We provide a unique forum in Houston that integrates education and entertainment without social or political agenda,” Brogan said. “The young and the young at heart come from across the United States and around the world to share these rare and candid conversations with the most fascinating people in the world.”

The collaboration was launched when Wilson and Brogan were introduced by mutual colleagues. Both shared the belief that one person can initiate change, and are committed to inspiring and motivating people to achieve their goals.

Most recently, the two organizations collaborated to host an educational program focused on Haiti at the Wade Wilson Art Gallery. Wilson said he has been especially impressed with the school-based inspirational lecture programs of Brilliant Lecture Series, and how the speakers really impart the idea that one idea and one person can change the world.

“That sort of empowerment can create a level of confidence that doesn’t exist in many students these days,” Wilson said. “That’s the beauty of the Brilliant Lecture Series: it inspires people to be better, to do better with what they have, and to try to stretch beyond their limitations.”

Scott Brogan,
Founding Director of
Brilliant Lecture Series

 Photo courtesy of Phoebe Rourke-Ghabriel
 Scott Brogan launched the Brilliant Lecture Series in 2005 after recognizing the lack of opportunity most have to hear from and speak with such influential people. “If our speakers came to Houston, most of them spoke at private, black-tie events.  At such events, these icons of our society are not sharing the unique journey of their life but are telling the dinner guests how wonderful they are for attending the event and supporting that particular cause,” he said.  He found that these events, while worthwhile, are not accessible to most people, especially our youth who need to hear from these role models now more than ever.

“Prior to the Brilliant Lecture Series, there was a huge disconnect between their powerful stories and the people that need to be in the room to hear and receive those messages,” Brogan said. The former political strategist decided to leverage his connections to address this need and ensure that these types of stories were shared.

For Wilson, this collaboration with his art gallery allows him to continue his support of local organizations. During his career in the arts, Wilson has helped to support fundraisers generating over eight million dollars for community initiatives since moving to Houston in 2000. Wilson asserts these community involvements efforts have been mutually beneficial. “Corporate support for programs like this is invaluable,” he emphasized. “It helps me to be a part of something bigger and engages the community I want to engage.”

For both Wilson and Brogan, this partnership effectively merges the creativity of the art world with the inspirational stories of people who manifested their basic ideas into global movements.

“I really love the idea that we’re changing the public’s vision of people who are changing the world,” Wilson said.

Brilliant Lecture Series will host an evening with Dr. Maya Angelou on Thursday, September 22nd. To purchase tickets or sponsor this program, visit the organization's website or call (713) 974-1335.

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