Leadership Day Focuses on Empowering Lives through Art

Professor Mark Peres interviews Natalie Frazier Allen of the Arts Empowerment Project.

Growing up in Queens, N.Y., Natalie Frazier Allen lived in a safe home, but the lives of her neighbors just a block away were different. Everyone in her family has been the victim of some sort of crime, so she grew up with a strong sense of self and advocating for others. Throughout her years in school and in college, she had numerous mentors who helped her along the path of success and charity.

“Philanthropy is a word I never used until I was an adult. My grandparents volunteered at their church giving meals, and they volunteered at the polls. That’s how it starts. Giving back to your community. It puts a seed in your mind and grows out of watching others.”

Making a Difference for At-Risk Children
Allen was the guest speaker at JWU Charlotte’s annual Sandra and Leon Levine Leadership & Philanthropy Day in March. She is an attorney and founder and executive director of the Arts Empowerment Project, a nonprofit that provides funding to connect court-involved and at-risk children to the arts.

Arts & Sciences Professor Mark Peres led the discussion with Allen. Sitting side-by-side in Hance Auditorium, they began their discussion with a video of JWU students sharing their ideas of what leadership means to them.

Allen’s mother was a classically-trained pianist who taught her the transformative power of art — and that making art can be therapeutic. “The trauma children experience can affect their brains and health into adulthood. How do I stop that? I became obsessed by it. There are a lot of programs to help, but art is the universal language. How can I expose children using art as a vehicle? Little angels carry you through the doubt and times of worry. A nonprofit really is a business.”

Leading by Example
“Natalie shared her story of the importance of the arts in self-expression and lifting confidence,” said Peres. “She related her journey and passion to the concerns and aspirations of our students to make a difference in the world.” Allen added, “When you lead, you lead with integrity. You can lead others off of a cliff if you’re careful. Talk to people and search your inner self about right from wrong.”

“This year we were specifically looking for a strong female presence within the community that embodies what this day is all about, leadership and giving back,” said Michelle Hunt, JWU Charlotte’s interim director of development. “Natalie exemplifies this and serves as a wonderful role model and inspiration for not only our students, but for all of us. We were honored to have her as our special guest and would like to thank the Levine Foundation for their continued support of this community and JWU.”

Founded in 2011, The Arts Empowerment Project is helping mend the spirits of children and hopefully helping break the cycle of violence. “My biggest joy is to grow something out of nothing. Managing my work-life balance and giving back to my community. Giving a voice to those who are silent. That is the spirit of this event.”


Leadership day group portrait.