Miami native son Gelan Lambert has won numerous artistic awards, studied at the Juliard School in New York, received the National Presidential Scholar Award from former President Bill Clinton and is currently starring as J.K., the tap-dancing sensation in the hit Broadway musical, FELA!
With Broadway, most would say he’s reached the peak of his success, right?
“Wrong,” said Lambert, (pronounced Lam-Bear). “When you’re really creating art, it’s boundless. You let it speak to you. It is what is it is. It’s only later on, when you realize what category it’ll fall into, that you can interpret it. Broadway is just one stop on my journey. I feel like I’m just getting started.”
For Lambert, Miami also represents a return to his roots with the Miami Chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters, the organization that helped catapult him to stardom.
Whether it’s musical theatre, acting, drawing, dance or playing a musical instrument, NSAL, through local and national competitions, identifies artistic talent with promise. Shirley MacClaine and Jessye Norman are among its distinguished alumni.
The organization supports promising artists by helping them get their careers off the ground, doing everything from helping artists find and secure housing, to helping with travel or providing funding for artists to produce their own works. It has several chapters across the country, including Boca Raton.
“I was a senior in high school at the New World School of the Arts in Miami, and I saw this article in the newspaper about a competition sponsored by NSAL,” Lambert said. “I competed because I just wanted to see how I would perform with my peers. Next thing I knew, I had won first place and an award for $10,000. Next thing I knew, it was off to Julliard.
“NSAL really boosted my self-esteem and made me think that I could become a successful artist. They support me. I believe that when you’re a developing artist, you don’t want to stifle a person’s artistic choices. NSAL supported my artistic journey, which is a unique mission in the arts community.”
NSAL’s artistic supports have also helped other artistic notables, including Megan Hilty, star of the hit television show Smash, and rising Miami singer Chloe Dolandis. Both actresses are past winners in local competitions sponsored by the NSAL. Hilty won NSAL’s musical theatre competition at its Pittsburgh chapter in 2004. Dolandis won a similar competition in Boca Raton last year.
Board members said they strive to keep NSAL focused on uncovering new talent, such as Lambert. The organization is unique because of its mission to host local and national talent competitions that identify the artists of tomorrow, said Alyce Erickson, a NSAL board member.
“I happen to think the young people are our future,” Erickson said. “Because arts programs are being removed from the schools, we need to create new opportunities. I want to support anything that gives young people a chance to explore their artistic talent. If you don’t expose kids, they have no idea how to see the beauty of the world. Our local and national competitions help give young people a boost to stardom.”
Judy Asselta, outgoing president of the Boca chapter, said she wants to help her chapter follow in the footsteps of other chapters around the country that are building alliances with high schools to help talent surface at the early stages of development.
“I’m excited about reaching more into the high schools to identify and support aspiring artists,” Asselta said. “We think collaborating with high schools will be a great addition to the work of our chapter.”
Shari Upbin, president of the Boca chapter, says one of her goals is to raise the profile of the organization so that NSAL can expand its reach. “Our mission is visibility for young artists,” Upbin said. “By offering venues for artists to pursue their trades in the various disciplines, we’re creating opportunities.”
NSAL is catching recent attention because of renewed interest on the impact of the arts in society, observers say. With the reach of television shows such as Glee and Smash, many organizations are now trying to quantify how the arts is making an impact.
Last year, for the first time in its 47-year history, the National Endowment for the Arts announced it will award grants to 15 research projects to investigate the value and impact of the arts in the United States.
“In order to create well-designed and responsive arts programs and policies, we need to have solid, research-based evidence about how art works,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman.
Lambert says the arts, simply put, work to inspire, and he’s looking forward to inspiring the world even beyond the Broadway stage.
“I’m not in a box,” he said. He said he hopes to use his art to perhaps write a book or a novel, continue public speaking, explore choreography and one day create a stage play that not only incorporates all of his talents, but engages the community.
“I’m a contemporary dancer with tap shoes on,” he said. “But that’s only a portion of what I do.”
*Pictured above are Jessye Norman, left, and Lambert Gelan, right.