As the community of Harlem witnesses its reclamation and resurrection after decades of waiting, the very institutions that stayed the course through the storm may meet sudden death. The forty-six-year-old Harlem School of the Arts will furlough its staff, after the termination of five administrators. The final decision by the board about the staff, faculty and the institution will be rendered Saturday, April 10.
Christopher Paci, board chairman, and John W. Corwin, interim executive director, wrote parents and faculty to say, “We have cancelled the gala for two reasons: We can’t afford to pay the restaurant. We cannot in good conscience have a party when we are in such dire straits. We have cancelled the Jas Anderson/Open House Event that was to take place on April 17 because, at this time, we cannot commit to being open on April 17. If the school does not survive, then all end-of-year events will also be cancelled. We deeply regret the disappointment this news will cause the students of HAS, who have worked so hard. Please know we are doing all we can to enable the school to remain open.”
On April 10, the board will announce the decision on whether the school will be closed permanently due to lack of funding. According to news reports, $500,000 is needed to keep the doors open.
The school was founded in 1964 by nationally acclaimed soprano Dorothy Leigh Maynor. After Ms. Maynor’s New York debut in November 1939, she soon became a “fixture in the elite group of Black artists that included Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes and Paul Robeson,” wrote Rosalyn M. Story in “And So I Sing: African American Divas of Opera and Concert.”
The Harlem School of the Arts trained youth from families of color in music, theater, visual arts and the classical arts. It placed students in premier arts schools to continue their training and alumni have performed on Broadway and around the world.
“Community members from Harlem have been vocal and organized in their criticism of the Harlem School of the Arts under recent management,” said a former parent who chose not to use her name.
John Corwin, interim executive director of HSA, responded to the AmNews, explaining:
“It seems as though this is sudden ‘from the outside,’ but this has been a process that has taken some time to develop, and the board has been dealing with the process with a series of cost-cutting measures, three sets of layoffs–the most recent two or three weeks ago.
“We have been communicating directly with the parents association, the faculty and the staff on a regular basis. Even these painful measures have not been enough to close the gap. The city has advised us that they have been making calls to outreach to everyone that they can.
Councilman Robert Jackson and Congressman Rangel are meeting with us presently. Reverend Calvin Butts spoke with us Wednesday. We have been speaking with the Department of Cultural Affairs regularly. Bloomberg LP has been a support to us for many years.
“We are feverishly reaching out to every resource that we can and we are hopeful that an ‘angel’ or ‘a small group of angels’ will step forward.”
Leroy Baylor, a WHCR Harlem Community Radio host, noted, “Someone, somewhere, knows an intelligent athlete or entertainer who is otherwise raining money away, who will respond to the opportunity to help [HSA]. Plus, the NBA and NFL [could respond] from the monies they get from the fines levied against ‘our grown children.’ [Also, there is enough money to save HSA in] the district attorney’s offices, which confiscates monies and goods from those that have plied drugs in our communities.”
Parents, students and faculty have organized prayer and strategy circles in response to the sudden news. They are soliciting support and can be reached via e-mail at:
All parents: firstname.lastname@example.org
All staff: email@example.com
All faculty: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paci and Corwin said in their letter, “We will continue to tirelessly look for funds in a much more public appeal than we have in the past. This is a long shot. We cannot offer any assurances that we will succeed. The board does not want to close the doors until it is beyond a doubt that there are no donors out there who care enough and who have the ability to come forward with significant funds.”