Daily, we hear about the possible demise of the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA), an institution that has educated the children of this city in the arts for over 45 years.
HSA was founded in 1964 by Dorothy Maynor, a soprano of world renown. She started the school in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church on St. Nicholas Avenue.
The school started out with humble beginnings. Ms. Maynor taught piano, then violin, while slowly adding other disciplines, such as drama, art and dance, for all the children of the community who had no other place to develop their artistic talents. The school took on the challenge of keeping our youth engaged and helping them reach their potential through the arts.
In 2006, the school was given a grant by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. The $1.6 million grant was to stabilize the organization and had several conditions attached. The conditions included hiring a new CFO, a development officer and a marketing manager. It was clear that the management of the organization was not cutting it and something drastic needed to be done to sustain the organization.
Recently, we learned that the money and the changes, at least the ones that did happen, were not enough to keep the doors open. We are now at a crossroads where we do not know what the future holds.
Just a few blocks away is another Harlem institution, the Harlem YMCA, founded in 1919. The Harlem Y has been a focal point of Harlem for decades. It has been a place of growth and leadership for our young people. It has enriched their bodies and their minds, but unlike other Ys in this city, there has not been a fully developed arts program.
According to Tiffany Forrest, executive director of the Harlem Branch of the YMCA, creating an arts program is part of the branch’s strategic plan for 2009-2011. With that in mind, why start an arts program from scratch? Why not figure out a way for the Harlem Y to absorb the Harlem School of the Arts. By bringing these two institutions together, we would be creating an even stronger institution on both fronts while continuing the legacy of that great soprano, Dorothy Maynor.
When I discussed the idea of the Harlem Y working with HSA, Forrest said that it was “an interesting concept.”
While this idea has just begun to float about, there are many that think this idea could be grand solution. The Harlem School of the Arts is an institution that deserves to be saved. And it can be.
The lack of arts education in New York City public schools has made it impossible for our youth to get a well-rounded education. We cannot lose this opportunity to recreate an institution. HSA must survive, and a partnering with the Harlem YMCA may be the answer. Just something to think about.