FAIRBORN, Ohio (WDTN) – After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ArtsGala returned to Wright State University on April 9.

Hundreds of people packed the university’s Creative Arts Center Saturday evening to enjoy over a dozen student performances ranging from dance concerts, opera, orchestra, Broadway hits, and much more.

However the event in its 23rd year aims not only to be a source of entertainment for the participants decked out in black-tie attire, but a way to benefit the WSU’s art department and the students in the program. Raising more than $3 million to date, ArtsGala has been the source of financial support for numerous students and during the two-year gap without it, things have been tough.

Sophomore acting major Aliya Pimental is one of the many students who experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic, “It’s not easy to work a full-time job and be a full-time student.”

Donations from the event have greatly helped Pimental in her studies and enabled her to take on even more responsibilities. For this year’s ArtsGala, Pimental took on the role of assistant producer. While it came with new stresses, Pimental said it was definitely worth it.

“If you’re not given opportunities you need to create them for yourself – and it never hurts to ask,” said Pimental.

Ciara McCarthy, another sophomore acting major, also experienced hardship due to the pandemic. Paying for schooling herself, she works her jobs while also maintaining her studies. McCarthy said she was grateful to be one of the scholarship recipients in the previous school year.

“Having a little bit of a scholarship is an immense help and I know that it helps so many other people here,” McCarthy said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to see what we do and love and then benefit all the students here too.”

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Along with the financial support ArtsGala offers students, McCarthy said she was excited for the performances, “I am so grateful to be able to show our hard work to everyone.” She said Wright State has been so important in her journey toward her “big dreams” of one day being in film and on Broadway.

Husband and wife co-chairs Dr. Stephen Burke and Dr. Traci Williams-Burke also expressed their overwhelming support for the event and the talents of the students featured.

“These really young people – they could be on Broadway tomorrow. They could be out in California and doing some amazing things tomorrow,” said Williams-Burke.

The couple was first introduced to ArtsGala a few years ago when they attended as guests. From the first performance, they said they were hooked and have since been serving on the host committee. Along with their duties as co-chairs this year, they are also sponsors of the gala through Stephen Burke’s orthodontics business, Burke Orthodontics.

The Burkes believe that supporting the arts locally is just a step toward supporting the arts globally. “I think about students and how they’re going places,” said Burke. “We love how we can support something that then goes on to support outside communities – Broadway, Hollywood and anywhere in between.”

The 2022 ArtsGala also included a silent auction to help raise money. WSU said the final amount raised from the event will be announced Tuesday.

Watch: WSU student Shannon Gallion discusses the found art exhibit at the ArtsGala.