The following was submitted by Newport Public Schools/Newport Public Education Foundation.

Established by Peter and Melinda Gerard in 2017, the Loti Falk Gaffney Music Empowerment Fund was founded to support the Pell Inspiration Program (PIP), an initiative designed to introduce Pell Elementary School students to inspired musicians through an artist-in-residence program. This year, the Gerards are expanding the trust to include the Thompson Inspiration Program (TIP), which brings the PIP tradition to the students of Thompson Middle School.

Loti Falk Gaffney

The Loti Falk Gaffney Music Empowerment Fund was formed under the Newport Public Education Foundation (NPEF), which empowers teachers, administrators and community partners to provide enriching educational experiences for the students of Newport’s public schools.

The Gerard’s will host Crocodile River Music at Thompson Middle School on March 9 and 10. Crocodile River Music’s mission is to spread awareness and inspire new ways of cultural thinking through song, dance and visual art. This dynamic ensemble of talented and personable individuals demonstrates the impact of African culture on the world through lively and joyous concerts and workshops, as well as lecturers and other authentic programming.  At the same time, the group provides opportunities for many emerging and established African Artists.

Crocodile River Music, 2022 TIP Artist-in-Residence group.

Crocodile River Music is composed of a diverse group of people who have traveled the world sharing the cultures of Africa. Through the group’s Cultural Ambassador Training Program, youth in African refugee and immigrant communities who are interested in pursuing careers in education and the arts are offered leadership training.

“There is no greater power than the power of inspiration,” Peter Gerard said. “It enables the possible.” In expanding the program to Thompson, the goal is to allow the students and artists to interact and share what this power can do and mean.

Using music as the medium, a typical engagement is a multi-day program where the artists are in and around the school with their music in different settings, almost like street musicians in the great cities. Freed from the constraints of the typical stage-audience relationship, the aim for this initiative is to offer a personal and rewarding experience for the students. Thompson students and staff will find musicians throughout the school, from the hallways to the library to the cafeteria.

The residency will include a family engagement event on Thursday, March 10, with dinner seatings at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. These events provide an opportunity for students and their families to share this experience while enjoying a dinner catered by Becky’s BBQ, hosted by the Thompson PTO. The event is free to the Thompson community, encompassing the Gerard’s dream to promote music appreciation to all. Student artwork will also be on display. 

TIP is not a program about learning musical instruments. It is about Thompson students being inspired and creating an impact that lasts a lifetime. In late May, Pell Elementary School will also celebrate the continued dedication and success of the Gerard’s philanthropic efforts by hosting Crocodile River Music.

In addition to the Gerard’s, trustees for the Loti Falk Gaffney Music Empowerment Fund include Dennis and Roseanne Williams and Colleen Burns Jermain, Ed.D., Superintendent of the Newport Public Schools.

The Gerard’s live in Dallas and have had a home in Newport for over 20 years. Loti Falk Gaffney was Mr. Gerard’s mother and a lifelong supporter of the arts and the musical arts in particular. She was instrumental in the founding of the Pittsburgh Ballet and a longtime board member of the Pittsburgh Symphony. She was also a strong believer in the importance of public schools and the importance of the arts for students.

Loti Falk Gaffney

Loti (Grunberg) Falk Gaffney was the co-founder of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and a contributor to many other artistic venues throughout the Pittsburgh region. Gaffney was born in Turkey in 1921 but soon moved to Italy where she was raised and educated. She studied philosophy and the arts in Milan, Paris and Switzerland. She moved to New York City, where she met her second husband, Leon Falk Jr., an industrialist, financier and philanthropist. The couple moved to Pittsburgh in 1963, where she became involved in the Pittsburgh arts scene. She began working with the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Pittsburgh Symphony and was instrumental in preventing the playhouse from closing in 1966 due to financial difficulties. That same year, she was approached by Nicolas Petrov with the idea of starting a professional ballet company. She provided the financial backing to start the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) and served as chairman of the board. She eventually became president of the PBT, a role that she would hold until 1987 when she left the company after 19 years of leadership to spend time with her ill husband, who died in 1988. Her third marriage was to lawyer Frank Gaffney who died in 2001. She died in 2015.

Newport Public Education Foundation

The Newport Public Education Foundation is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to the students of Newport Public Schools. Their mission is to empower teachers, administrators and community partners to provide enriching educational experiences for the students of Newport’s public schools. 

Newport Public Schools

Newport Public Schools includes Claiborne Pell Elementary School (PK-4), Frank E. Thompson Middle School (Grades 5-8) and William S. Rogers High School (Grades 9-12). The district is also home to the Newport Area Career & Technical Center (NACTC), a regional school serving Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth and Middletown. NACTC offers pathways in Automotive Technology, Academy of Information Technology, Advertising and Design Media, Cosmetology, Residential Carpentry, and Culinary Arts. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School, in partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island, offers students the opportunity to complete their associate degree (cybersecurity) and high school diploma.

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