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A Milestone in the Spotlight: Patel Conservatory Celebrates 15 Years of Arts Education

In the Presence of Something Real | Honoring the Past, Present and Future of the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts 

There we were, my dad and I, at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, 1988, for the final concert of Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. I was 15 years old. The stadium buzzed with the electric opening of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.Then, David Gilmour ripped apart the atmosphere with the first four notes of that insanely perfect guitar solo. Time stopped. 

I stood in that frozen moment and thought, this is it; I have to try to be able to do this, to figure out the mystery. I had to make some kind of sound to keep that feeling in me alive. I had been transformed by being in the presence of something so real. I got really serious about my musicianship then and began studying to become a professional musician. 

A few years after that epic concert, my mother, Judy Lisi, was hired as CEO of the Straz Center. As I mentioned in my opening letter, my mother’s life in the performing arts profoundly shaped me as a person, and, as I discovered during that fateful moment with dad at Pink Floyd, as a professional. I studied my craft at a college conservatory, so I knew first-hand what a dramatic difference conservatory training could be for an artist. When I found out that The Straz was building a community-based conservatory on site, I was beside myself with excitement for what that meant to kids and adults across the neighborhoods of this area.  

Related: Dance Your Way Through Life, by Philip Neal of the Patel Conservatory

Before the Patel Conservatory opened, the teachers used copy rooms and any free space to teach arts education at The Straz. When the brick-and-mortar performing arts school opened 15 years ago, we saw almost instant growth. The classes at our conservatory were designed so if someone wanted elite training in their craft, they could get it. Or, if someone simply suspected they had a knack for singing and wanted to learn a little just for fun, they could get that, too. We have classes from pre-K to seniors, we’re fully accredited and we have scholarships available, so everybody who wants to study the performing arts has the opportunity to do so.  

Patel Conservatory Classes

What I love most about working at The Straz now and seeing so many different people of different ages coming in and out of our doors is that we’re an open-arms hub offering non-stop access for people to be in the presence of something so real. 

Related: The Patel Youth Theater Series Goes Sensory-Friendly

Fifteen years is a huge milestone for the Patel Conservatory. The fact that we’re bursting our seams proves that people want to be together making something bigger than themselves, art is the great equalizer and supporting someone through something they’re scared to do so they can experience how awesome they are is a worthy human endeavor. These fundamental lessons of the performing arts teach us profound truths about our human existence. You don’t have to become a professional artist to reap the benefits of taking a dance class or a guitar lesson or a comedy improv workshop. 

We have wonderful plans and ideas in store for the future of the Patel Conservatory and how we hope to answer the enthusiastic demand for more arts education. This season, as we celebrate the 15th anniversary, we hope you take advantage of this wonderful school for your kids and yourselves. Find out more at 

Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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