The very next evening, there was yet another elegant affair. This one was a dress-up affair, and the venue was the Allen Room, Jazz at Lincoln Center. It was the Harlem School of the Arts’ 2013 gala. Honored were actors Laurence Fishbourne and Gina Torres, Janice Savin Williams, Christopher J. Williams and Arturo O’Farrill.
It was quite a week for Afro-Latin jazz artist O’Farrill, who performed in “Pueblo Harlem, Familia, Comunidad y los Artes” at the Harlem School of the Arts’ (HSA) Herb Alpert Center, where he is an artist-in-residence, a few days earlier in celebration of Hispanic Heritage.
While New York offers a bevy of places to host a gala affair, this venue happens to be one of my favorites for any occasion, as the view overlooking the southwest corner of Central Park, Columbus Circle and the cross street of 57th Street, is spectacular. The room for hosting the cocktail reception is spacious, allowing for guests to mix and mingle amongst the several tasting stations that were filled with delectables, along with a delicious selection of appetizers.
Quite eye-catching were two HSA art students who were busy at the canvas, creating a jazz masterpiece right before the guests’ eyes. One of the artists, 15-year-old Maya Lee, proclaimed she had been at HSA for the past 10 years. Beginning with dance classes and following with piano (which she still takes), Lee finally selected art as her primary medium of choice. When she decided to apply for LaGuardia Performing Arts High School, HSA was very instrumental in helping her create her portfolio. I could actually feel her excitement as she expressed the overwhelming feeling of joy she felt upon receiving her acceptance letter.
HSA has become a cornerstone in cultural and arts education for the children of the community. If you are ever there on a Saturday morning, the high level of energy is infectious; to see the children so actively engaged in the variety of arts programs the school has to offer is heartwarming. Once run by the late opera diva Dorothy Maynard, the school’s now President and CEO Yvette Campbell competently and graciously ruling at the helm.
When asked how she managed to run the organization when people remember all too well that it wasn’t that long ago that the HAS was on the brink of closing, she replied, “I push hard, demand a lot and don’t take no for an answer.” And what prepared her for the position? “Dance,” she replied.
Campbell, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey and math major, has all of the right moves, and she moves so well.
Acknowledgements throughout the evening were made to the Ford Foundation, Morgan Stanley Urban Markets Group, Goldfarb Properties, Nielson, Chahill Gordon & Reindel LLP and, of course, the Herb Alpert Foundation, whose generosity and commitment to the arts helped keep the institution alive. In other words, Alpert put his money where his mouth and his heart were.
The program was hosted by “NBC News” anchor and host of “The Debrief” David Ushery with the help of HSA’s performing artists and precocious youngsters, who have talent beaming out of them from every pore. Among the many in attendance was NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin, Melvin Van Peebles, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker and Rona Sebastian.
The accolades were profuse, underscoring the passion and vision that HSA displays so unabashedly. As someone in the audience was overheard saying, “HSA is a rare breed that possesses all the excellence and determination to succeed!” So true.
Until next week … kisses