An arts school for Harlem

Eric Pryor, President of Harlem School of the Arts | 2/22/2018, 10:19 a.m.
For more than a century, Harlem has served as the epicenter for cultural, social and artistic innovation in New York ...
Eric Pryor

For more than a century, Harlem has served as the epicenter for cultural, social and artistic innovation in New York City. From Langston Hughes and Ella Fitzgerald to James Brown and Lauryn Hill, numerous artists have found their iconic voices in Harlem’s theaters, concert halls, jazz clubs and galleries.

Harlem has a long reputation for fostering the arts, and now we can collaborate with Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Visual Arts and help transform it into our local premier arts high school. Young artists from our neighborhood and across the city will be able to explore and fine-tune their talents here in Harlem.

It is no secret that in recent years, Wadleigh has faced serious challenges. The school’s enrollment has declined, and it had to eliminate its theater program. As a result, high school students who wanted the best arts education have left Harlem for schools in Midtown, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens.

However, that will soon change. Last month, Wadleigh joined the Department of Education’s Arts High School Planning Process, a new program that focuses on strengthening arts instruction at arts-based high schools to increase the number of premier arts schools across the five boroughs. We’re pleased that the Harlem School of the Arts has been invited to support Wadleigh in this effort, by helping the school create a new, rigorous audition theater program. This initiative will restore Wadleigh to a full-fledged arts school with all four major disciplines: music, dance, visual arts and now, theater.

Over the next five months, Harlem School of the Arts will be on the ground at Wadleigh, providing the resources and expertise that are needed to build a high-quality, sustainable theater program. Already, we started a completely new theater class that students were able to enroll in at the start of the spring semester—this class will be the foundation for the school’s new audition theater program. We will also work with the DOE to provide access to theater supplies, props and technical assistance—all things that real theater programs must have. Additionally, we want to make Harlem School of the Arts a second home for these young performers by offering theater students access to our building and programs to support and supplement their instruction.

We are also thrilled to join Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Apollo Theater in providing Wadleigh’s students with expanded opportunities and support in the arts. Coupled with additional funding and guidance from the DOE, these partnerships will rejuvenate the Wadleigh community and will give Harlem an arts school that celebrates the history, culture and social activism that have defined our community for more than 100 years.

Harlem has long been a launch pad for some of the greatest artists in American history. And through this new partnership with Harlem School of the Arts, Wadleigh will continue to be a part of that legacy, by attracting talented students from across the city to master their craft right here in our community. We are thrilled to join the DOE and Wadleigh on this journey and look forward to the work ahead.