A non-profit organization founded in 1978 by Dennis G. Assaf and Hannah Cunningham, Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS) is dedicated to the artistic and cultural enrichment of the Gulf South. JPAS created the cultural climate in Jefferson Parish. It can be said with great pride, that even with the catastrophic weather events of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012, JPAS has never missed a single season since its founding. Prior to its inception, professional arts offerings were virtually non-existent in Jefferson Parish. Additionally, citizens had no real venue in which to enjoy the arts in their home parish. Dennis G. Assaf and Hannah Cunningham realized the serious artistic void that existed in this community, which relied on neighboring Orleans Parish for its cultural diversions. Together, they set out to make a change. Thus, a critical element of JPAS' mission to support and promote the arts in this area was "to be the catalyst to build a true performing arts facility for Jefferson Parish." Since 1978, JPAS has led the charge and championed the need for a state-of-the-art performance venue in Jefferson Parish. JPAS has demonstrated the positive economic impact and quality of life that a viable arts presence contributes to the community.
JPAS serves the state of Louisiana, several counties in Mississippi and communities throughout the Gulf South. Through its diverse programming and over 150 annual performances that include Grand Opera, Broadway Musicals, Symphonic and Choral Concerts, Ballet and Modern Dance and distinguished guest artists of all genres from around the world, JPAS has rightfully earned the reputation as "Louisiana's Cultural Leader. "
In 1998, JPAS sought and secured $15 million in state funding for a new performing arts venue in Jefferson Parish through the dedicated leadership of the late State Senators Ken Hollis and John Hainkel, then Representative (and now Senate President) John A. Alario, Jr. and then Representative (and now US Congressman) Steve Scalise. Groundbreaking of the new Jefferson Performing Arts Center took place in February 2007 at LaSalle Park in Metairie, a location recommended by the efforts of JPAS. The facility finally opened, after 38 years of struggle on July 20, 2015 with a Grand Gala concert featuring the JPAS Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Dennis G. Assaf, the Jefferson Chorale, The JPAS Theatre Kids! Competition Team, and performances by numerous guest artists and JPAS Composer in Residence Glyn Bailey.
JPAS' outreach and service extend to both banks of the Mississippi River. Performances on the East bank are now held in the new Jefferson Performing Arts Center, Performances on the West Bank are held in the Westwego Performing Arts Theatre and Teatro Wego! Dinner Theatre in Westwego.
In 2000, after 22 years of proven arts leadership in the community, JPAS was chosen by then State Representative John A. Alario, Jr, the Mayor and City Council of Westwego to manage the soon to be constructed Westwego Performing Arts Theatre (WPAT). The Grand Opening of the theatre took place in October 2004 with nine performances of the Broadway-hit Chicago. Sold- out audiences continued to greet the premiere season of seven JPAS productions that included a visiting performance by the Japanese NOH Theatre on its American tour. Never had the West Bank of Jefferson Parish experienced such quality and variety of arts programming that JPAS brought and continues to bring each year since.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina severely damaged WPAT and the former Jefferson Performing Arts Center on the East Jefferson High campus. Despite the tragedy and frustrations brought by this storm, Katrina sparked a renaissance for JPAS. With damage to both venues, JPAS was compelled to focus on the remaining viable venue - a recently renovated historical building in the City of Westwego. Officially the city's Community Center, Teatro Wego! Dinner Theatre was born. This venture revived the lost offerings of dinner theater in the metropolitan New Orleans area and further extended the JPAS cultural portfolio.
Tragedy struck WPAT again in 2012 as Hurricane Isaac torn a huge hole over the stage fly loft rendering the space unusable for 5 years. Repairs have been completed just in time for the 40th Season.