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8 Questions with West Louisville Performing Arts Academy Alums Shelby Lockhart & Demetrius Gunn

SL: Shelby Lockhart, WLPAA Member 2002-2009

DG: Demetrius Gunn, WLPAA Member 2005-2015

What is your first memory of WLPAA?

SL: I was really shy when I first came. There was this girl and she was really mean. She was really rude to me, she was like Who are you?!.

I don’t know, it’s weird…You would think that moment would’ve made me say, I don’t want to go back, but it actually encouraged me to continue to go. Just to see, I guess. And we ended up being really good friends! She was just a very protective person—protective of the choir. She was like, new girl coming in, what are you about? But she ended up looking out for me.

DG: My first memory was coming to rehearsal for the first time, meeting a group of guys who I never knew. [At that time] we had the boys’ choir and the girls’ choir, and we had separate rooms. I remember coming in, and these were TALL guys too. But just being able to express who I was through my art—that was one of the most profound things I was able to do at that age.

What do you do now?

SL: I am a records analyst at the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). I specifically work with easements, storm water plans. I got connected to MSD through Project One. Mr. Bluitt (Director, WLPAA) would take us to their location for job skills training, computer skills training, math. [MSD] hired me as a temp in the summers and winter breaks while I was in college. And so I graduated…took a few detours…someone retired and they called me up, I interviewed, and ended up at MSD.

DG: I am currently the Assistant Director for Mr. Bluitt for WLPAA. I basically assist as far as the things he may need for the program, running rehearsals, running errands for him. I’m currently a Simmons College Student, my academic major is Communications. I also work for the YMCA Child Enrichment Program.

What is something that you learned from your time in WLPAA that you still use in your day-to-day?

SL: I learned how to command my presence in a room. I was a Peer Leader—we would be in charge of the group, keeping everybody in line when went to performances or met different people. We learned how to network. I learned how to be confident, and to not really apologize for who I am, or what I look like.

DG: [Mr. Bluitt] talked about purpose. When we walk: walk with a purpose! Being that young, you really didn’t understand. But kind of getting older, middle school and high school level, something dropped in me and said, I had a purpose before anybody had an opinion.

Out of the three following words, which one relates most to WLPAA? Neighborhood. Community. Creativity.

SL: All of those to me are intertwined. I grew up in West Louisville, Parkland area. I think it represents to me a community, bridging the gaps. Though it was separated boys’ choir and girls’ choir, those were my brothers and sisters. And some of those people I’m still connected with to this day. You need people who sincerely want you to succeed, and will tell you when you’re wrong and when you need to get it together. I received that and I carry it.

DG: As far as community and neighborhood, I’m actually going to combine those. Mr. Bluitt has really truly blessed this community and neighborhood. Tremendously. There’s a lot of people that have come through this program who have been homeless, who’ve been through foster care—who’ve been through anything that you can really think of—have come through this program, and Brother Bluitt literally has become a father figure to a lot of these students.

Can you recall a time when WLPAA helped you face a challenge?

SL: When I was younger [my parents] were going through a divorce. It was a very traumatic experience for me. At the time, you know…you don’t really talk about it. I think the choir helped me. It was a place away from that—that stress. I probably would have been more affected by it if I hadn’t been in the choir. It was an outlet for me. Not only me but I think the peers I had, a lot of us were going through different things, and when we came to choir, whatever it was, we didn’t bring that to choir.

DG: Years back there was a flood that came here. I was the only one in the choir who was affected by it because ours was in the heart of the west end. It just came in and wiped us out. And I remember thinking, school is about to start and I have nothing. I mean literally nothing besides the clothes I had on. Mr. Bluitt took me to the store, got me all types of clothes, shoes, things to help me start the school year until I was able to get back on my feet.

Is there a performance moment that sticks out to you from your time?

SL: [The opening of the Muhammad Ali Center at the Kentucky Center for the Arts]

We had the opportunity for singing for [Muhammad Ali] as he was entering into the lobby. At first, we were like, This is so cheesy! We’re singing on the steps, why can’t we be in the actual place where they were having the ceremony. This doesn’t matter, he ain’t gonna notice us, blah blah blah.” But, looking back, that was such a dope experience. It really was. We sang “The Greatest Love of All.” And he looked at us. I’ll never forget that. He looked our way, smiled, and I think he did a thumbs up.

DG: Singing for Prince Charles at the Cathedral of Assumption. I had a solo. We got done and were standing waiting for him to walk out. And when he walked out, he came up to me, he shook my hand, and he said, You have a voice of an angel. I would love for you to come and sing in [Wales]. And I said Let’s set that up, sir! I’m ready to go!

What would you say to someone who wants to know why they should support the arts for youth?

SL: Youth of today need it especially, because there are so many negative influences. And they are impacted in ways that we could not imagine. I think the arts allow outlet to express yourself in a positive way. So you don’t use that expression, that anger, and get a gun—use that anger and start a fight, or drop out of school or whatever.

If you can just channel into playing an instrument, or drawing a picture, or singing, rapping, poetry. Whatever that may be, I think the perspective might change. I’m a prime example of that. The arts have opened up a door that we probably would not have had if we were not involved.

DG: Those are the stages where we’re trying to find who we are, who we truly are. Anything you do to sow in the good ground, that means you’re producing good fruit. You’re helping that person find who they are and develop their art form. A lot of times we have the gift but we don’t know to operate that gift or how to develop that. So programs like this help us to become who were really are and embrace who we really are.

Describe WLPAA in one word.

SL: Necessary

DG: Oh wow! [pauses for several minutes]

Maybe three words?

DG: Purpose, Opportunity, and Embrace

Shelby currently dances with D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D Dance Company, which performed at Opening Night/ Fund for the Arts’ Awards in the Arts. Demetrius’s band, True Purpose will complete its first EP at the end of Summer 2018.

To learn more and support the expansion of access to intensive after-school arts training for Greater Louisville youth, visit fundforthearts.org/arts-impact.