- Fulton County Schools
Tri-Cities HS Visual and Performing Arts Magnet Celebrates 30 Years of Excellence
Tri-Cities VPA Founder Viola Turner
When the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Magnet program began in 1991 at Tri-Cities High, a legacy of excellence was launched. Drama teacher Viola Turner led the program with a staff of outstanding teachers, enabling it to be recognized as one of the best high school programs in the Southeast to combine academics with a concentration in the visual and performing arts. Growing from 23 students to 400, the program included music, dance, drama, piano and visual arts. "In 1995 I added television production and graphic arts to the curriculum," Turner said. "Students were recruited from all over Fulton County Schools and had to audition for the program."
To assist the program with needed resources, Turner wrote grants for funding that helped the program recruit teachers and establish a tradition of excellence. "Each year we had a theme that kept us focused on our goal," Turner said. "We went from 'Striving for Excellence' to 'Excellence in a New Tradition' to 'Exceeding Expectations.' We were listed in Atlanta Magazine as the Most Outstanding Performing Arts Program in Atlanta."
And what led Turner to continue to exceed expectations for the program? "The VPA Magnet program was a God-given mission," Turner said. "When God gives you a mission, He sends angels to help you accomplish it." Some of the most celebrated arts instructors in Atlanta were part of the program, including Ballethnic's Nina Gilreath; Terrie and Dawn Axam, Total Dance; and Freddie Hendricks of the Freddie Hendricks Youth Ensemble.
VPA Magnet graduates include Kenan Thompson, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and the "Kenan" sitcom; singer Kandi Burrus; Grammy-Award winner Jason Boyd, who wrote for Justin Bieber; and Grammy Award-winner Justin Ellington, who won his Grammy for his work with singer Usher. In a recent Atlanta Magazine article, Thompson said his Tri-Cities instructor Freddie Hendricks was his theater mentor. "Kenan came to Tri-Cities in the 11th grade," said his mother, Elizabeth Thompson. "He was very excited because he had a group that accepted him so readily." Thompson was a working actor when he attended the school. "We sent Kenan his homework at Nickelodeon" Turner said.
Other artists who worked with Turner include Roscoe Sales, Atlanta Ballet, and composer David Robinson. "Our goal was to be like the Duke Ellington School of the Arts," Turner said. "We were dedicated, committed and passionate. Our student accomplishments ranged from Grammy Awards, platinum-level music sales, Tony nominations, to Broadway, television and movie roles."
Turner's vision included graduating students who excelled academically as well as artistically. "They were valedictorians, salutatorians, and class officers," Turner said. "They won scholarships to colleges and universities across the nation."
Viola Turner officially retired in 2007. As a tribute to her dedication, the theatre at Tri-Cities was officially named the Viola Turner Fine Arts Theatre in 2009. "Mrs. Turner will always be a true representative of the VPA program because of her tenacity," said current VPA Director Dr. Tiffany Mingo. "She represents the legacy."
Tri-Cities VPA instructor Jade Lambert students prepare
for Auguste Wilson Monologues Competition
Continuing the award-winning legacy is Jade Lambert, Theatre Director. The Tri-Cities Theatre Department placed Third in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) State One Act competition recently. Nicholas Wilkinson won the Best Actor Award.
Ja'Nieyah Avila, Raymond Seay and Jordyn Spencer were all awarded All-Star cast awards at the competition.
And in the English-Speaking Unions Atlanta Shakespeare competition, Tri-Cities' Josiah Mitchell won First Place for his portrayal of Edmund from King Lear. Jordyn Spencer also placed Fourth in the competition for her portrayal of Viola from Twelfth Night. Josiah will advance to the virtual national Competition in New York, New York.
Tri-Cities Magnet students in the Visual Art department have been consistently and successfully exhibiting work in the state, and nationally since the First Annual Tri-Cities Magnet Juried Student Art Exhibition in the spring of 1992 held at The Atlanta College of Art.
Magnet art student work has been on permanent display at WellStar Health Hospital since 2017. In the past four years Tri-Cities Visual Art magnet students have won awards and honors at many state and national competitions and exhibits. In 2018, Tri-Cities student art was exhibited on the MARTA Red Line during the Atlanta Celebrates Photography Public Art: Everyday Atlanta.
Nadia Jackson was a Gold Key Award winner in the 2019 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards: the longest running national juried art competition in the country.
Tri-Cities art students have consistently participated and received awards and honors in many other exhibits and events including the following:
- Annual South Side Art Showdown sponsored by the High Museum of Art
- ACT-SO Drawing – Bronze Award
- South Fulton PTA Reflections Visual Arts Category 1st Place & 2nd Place
- Annual South Fulton Art Show, Winners: Best of Show category & 3rd place
- Delta Sigma Theta Youth Art Showcase- 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Place
- Unspoken Civil Rights Showcase – 1st and 3rd Place
Performing Arts Magnet Director Dr. Tiffany Mingo
"The Tri-Cities Visual and Performing Arts Magnet has provided quality arts education and has prepared hundreds of students to enter the creative industries," said Elizabeth Eppes, FCS Visual & Performing Arts Coordinator. "Since 2017, more than 260 Tri-Cities VPA students have earned the Georgia Department of Education Fine Art Diploma Seal, awarded by the Department of Education (DOE). Earning this seal is a signal to employers and higher education that Tri-Cities Magnet students are prepared to participate in Georgia's robust Creative Industries sector. The Creative Industries are a $29 billion sector in Georgia's economy employing over 200,000 creatives in all arts arenas."
Tri-Cities principal, Dr. Ethel Lett, is grateful for the precedent the VPA has set for the high school.
"The Visual and Performing Arts Magnet program is to be commended for its noteworthy accomplishments, the excellence in productions and programming, and the nationwide recognition," said Dr. Lett. "We are extremely proud to celebrate 30 years of a powerful legacy. Our program has produced a celestial array of shining stars and professionals working in the industry."
Dr. Mingo has created a 30th Anniversary Symposium series as a gift to students and the community. Recently, Grammy Award-winner Q Parker spoke to students in the series about the importance of understanding the business of music.
"Viola Turner is the ground on which the Tri-Cities Visual and Performing Arts Magnet department stands," said Jade Lambert. "She is truly an icon in performing arts education. She continues to serve the VPA Magnet through the Turner Scholarship and mentorship of our students and teachers."
As the 30th anniversary celebration continues, the legacy of Turner is felt by its current and former students and teachers. "The Tri-Cities Alumni Association helped us create a 30th Anniversary VPA Celebration banner," Dr. Mingo said.
And when the banner is hung soon, students past and present will acknowledge the legacy of excellence, still nurtured by Turner.