In 2002, Tony Rose and Rocco Suriano had an idea. 20 years later, that idea has developed into a $1.6 million endowment, offering the largest Fine Arts scholarships available at the University of Lethbridge. Rose and Suriano, former owners of Italian restaurant Coco Pazzo, hired many students and identified a need for scholarships in the arts. They approached the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Carl Granzow, with an idea for an event that would support that need and Abbondànza was born.
“I felt that it was important that scholarships would be available for the fine arts and I didn’t see a lot of dollars moving in that direction, so we approached Carl with the idea for a fine arts fundraiser,” says Rose, who still attends Abbondànza annually.
Abbondànza, Italian for ‘abundance’, has become an opportunity to highlight the phenomenal talents of art, drama, music and new media students while bringing the community together to raise funds for student scholarships. Rose and Suriano offered their restaurant and culinary expertise to the event and representatives from each department provided entertainment, art and a unique experience. Developing an endowment to provide scholarships long into the future, the first awards were distributed in 2004.
“Carl stressed the fact that fourth year students struggled balancing academic and creative pursuits with their need to work to afford school,” shares Rose.
“It was very hard on them because performances and rehearsals are in the evening so that limited their hours to work. That’s why we chose fourth-year students to receive the first scholarships.”
In the past 20 years, Abbondànza has continued to grow and change shape – the event, and the endowment. With the closure of Coco Pazzo in 2015 the event moved locations but held onto the spirit of the original: jaw-dropping entertainment, unique works of art and a gourmet four-course Italian meal. The endowment continues to grow thanks to the continued support of sponsors and guests, some that have attended every year since 2002.
The Abbondànza endowment reached its first major milestone, $1-million, in 2013, allowing for the expansion of the terms of reference to provide scholarships to graduate students. Beginning in fall 2020, the award opportunities expanded again, supporting entrance and continuing student scholarships, impacting more Fine Arts students than ever before with 30 scholarships awarded in the 2020/2021 academic year.
The impact of 20 years of sponsor and attendee support does not go unnoticed. Since its inception, 155 students have experienced the joy and stress-relief of receiving an Abbondànza scholarship.
“Receiving the Abbondànza scholarship continues to make the University of Lethbridge an even more rewarding place to further my education,” shares Michelle Sylvestre, new media graduate student. “The scholarship allowed me to focus and further my research and creative practice rather than worry about financial pressures. It means a great deal to me to have my achievements recognized and celebrated.”