The mission of the Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts is to provide exemplary arts education to aspiring professional students, make a positive impact in the local community of arts, and create connections in the music, theatre, and film world that will last a lifetime.
Founded in 2018 by industry creatives Danny and Ricky Loftus George with the goal of creating a college that was equal parts training and opportunity, it was initially known as the LINK Program and has developed into a full two-year college conservatory known as “NoCo” today. With close proximity to New York City, many students working on Broadway and television, a faculty of pivotal artists, small class sizes, and a curriculum built for today’s industry, it is envisioned to become a premier college of the arts.
The Conservatory plans to welcome its first class of two-year-program students to live and study at its Norwalk campus in August 2022.
NoCo and The City of Norwalk have also launched an annual Broadway in the Park summer outdoor concert series in Mathews Park, welcoming a slew of incredible performers to sing favorite Disney classics. With the beautiful park setting, food trucks and some surprises for kids, Broadway in the Park is a not-to-be missed summer event in Fairfield County.
NoCo additionally presents an annual haunted house adventure held in partnership with The SoNo Collection, with immersive events created in the spirit of Halloween. Produced by Broadway artists and crew members, these live-performance-art events can put a scare into even the bravest of adults, while also delighting young children, to get everyone in the Halloween spirit.
Co-Founder and President Danny George set the stage for how NoCo found its home in Norwalk.
“I have been working in higher education for the last 10 years. I’ve done quite a number of different jobs for a bunch of different schools. I work with over 40 colleges presently, doing everything from producing senior showcases, to bringing in new professors, to connecting them to the industry, to writing curriculum. You name it. And so, for the past five years, we’ve been building programming to launch a proper four-year college. It’s what was referred to as the LINK Program. It’s now obviously called ‘NoCo,’ as we picked Norwalk as our home.
We wanted to be close enough to New York City but still give students a safe and suburban atmosphere in which to learn, and in which to fail, and in which to succeed. So, Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport started to make the most sense.
We felt that Bridgeport was too far away because our faculty is coming in from New York City. We’re bringing in big casting directors and agents and directors and choreographers and really big names. We want our students to work with the best, and so Norwalk won us over. It’s perfect. It’s quaint and still charming but also a big and growing town, and we wanted to be a part of that growth.
Ultimately Stamford has UConn and we thought Norwalk was really primed for a college or university. It’s getting to just about 100,000 residents and that is typically the point when you see a college or university enter a city. So, Norwalk is ready for something like this to accelerate its growth.
In Norwalk, we’ve built relationships and collaborations. We work with Stepping Stones Museum for Children quite a bunch. We’ve worked with the City. We work with the Wall Street Theater. We work with The SoNo Collection, which is a big partnership.
We have six different buildings. Our main building is called ‘The Flagship,’ and that is just for NoCo use. Right next to it, we have ‘The Vault,’ and that’s a partnership with Juice Media. There we teach kids how to shoot commercials. Next door, we use for classes and performances. Right across the street is the gymnastics and cheerleading academy where students learn how to tumble. So, our dancers learn how to tumble and our television and film students learn how to do stunt work. We work with Factory Underground in the back behind us. Students learn how to do voiceover work there. And also The Spot, which is a big dance studio space for us.
We’re about to start renovations on our dormitories. These kids are 18 years old and we need to make sure that they’re safe and secure. So, there’s ID access and resident advisors and all those things that a traditional school has. We don’t have a traditional meal plan but we are partnering with several restaurants in the downtown area. The idea is that students can use their card at certain restaurants, so it helps them a bunch. And our students get to eat some great food, too. And we’ve been very strategic about our partnerships there, about which restaurants make sense. We want to be inclusive of all types of cuisines and all dietary requirements. We want to make sure that we have something for everybody and proximity is important.
We are a true not-for-profit organization. We are here for every dollar to go towards helping kids who can’t afford to go to school. So, organizations that support that mission we tend to flock to and cling to. Especially restaurants.
In terms of our student population, we do pre-college, which is a chance for high school students to see if this is a fit for them. And then we have full-time college. So year one, which starts in August 2022, we’ll have 50 students. About a third of those students are from pre-college, already enrolled. The other two-thirds will come from our national auditions tour. We offer two-year programs in three areas of study. Hopefully we will be granted accreditation to become a Bachelor’s program. If that happens, then we will expand to a four-year college.
Our goal is to really reinvent the Wall Street corridor. We would like to just build an entire campus there. We think it’s the perfect area for a campus. Our goal is to have 1,000 students by year five, and about 3,000 students by year 10.
I’ve never built a college from scratch before and there are so many things that you can’t even imagine that just come up, that are so difficult. If you’re running a not-for-profit, raising finances and capital is always the biggest hurdle. But we know that our next big hurdle is going to be accreditation. Our funding is almost completely private. Our biggest way of fundraising has been big events, Broadway in the Park and the Haunted House. Those events generate quite a bit of income and they’re big fundraisers for us. So that is that is how we’ve been able to stay afloat. We’re about to bring on a director of development and that’s an exciting change in terms of opening up a lot more grants and public support.
We’ve actually been very fortunate in getting a lot of in-kind donations as well. Some have been incredibly generous. The SoNo Collection. Norwalk Hospital. Stop & Shop. Home Depot. It’s a lot of small things here and there but small acts of kindness lead to greater things. I think we’re getting the City to understand the value, and I think that a lot of individuals have been tremendous and understanding of that value. Sabrina Church and Jessica Vonashek are just the bee’s knees.
I have been an actor for the majority of my career in New York, on tour, in London and everywhere. And I started a program for postgraduate studies 10 years ago. That became big very quickly. We ended up having 6,000 students in New York City. We also opened in London, Paris and Amsterdam. I got sucked into higher education and I haven’t looked back. In the arts, there are not a lot of people who run programs that look like me, that are my age, that are my ethnic background. And so, to be able to highlight that and really focus on the next generation of artists that are similar, that excites me quite a lot.
You know, doing something like a Halloween haunted house seems trivial. But ultimately, to make it a full production, Broadway-caliber, that’s exciting, interesting and, to me, great!”