Credit: Christine Butler

Harlem School of the Arts is a one-of-a-kind institution in Harlem. HSA, which has been around since 1964, is a leading example of arts, community and collective creative forces joining together under one roof.

The organization focuses on brightening the lives of young and old alike with world-class training in their wide variety of programs. Programs are divided into three main categories: early education programs for ages 2 to 4; children’s program for ages 4 to 18; and adult classes, which all include music, dance, theatre and visual arts.

“What makes us special are the people that are teaching here and the overall environment, which I think is like an extended family,” said Artistic Director and Director of Theatre Alfred Preisser. “It’s very common for parents who went here as students to be bringing their kids here. They want them to have the experience here.”

HSA is an ever-growing and developing establishment that aims to expand its overall function, reach into new avenues and continue to involve the local community. “We definitely interface with the community,” said President Eric G. Pryor. “If you come here on a Saturday, these are all families that are here. Providing things for the parents and the families that are here is critical.”

HSA’s main focus is to grow and cultivate its students through their respective programs in the theater, visual arts, dance and music departments. Each department ensures that all students are equipped with the right elements and skills to be an adept artist. Students are also encouraged to participate in more than their craft and to get involved in the production side of their respective shows.

HSA hosts multiple elements that makes it unique and different from other art schools and institutions. “In the theater, it’s our emphasis on production and a company mentality,” said Preisser. “The dance department, it’s that we’re one of five places in the country that is certified to teach American ballet curriculum. That’s pretty special, right here in Harlem.”

The institution has also produced some notable talent, most recently NBC’s “The Voice” contestant Wé McDonald.

“We’re going through a transformation here, a very positive one both in terms of programs and vision and goals,” said Vice President of Development and External Affairs Yvonne Garcia. “Fundraising is still a challenge, and we’re diversifying our funding sources. As we are developing our adult programming also. People feel that we are also an institution for adults and families.”

“It’s about being relevant to every member of the community,” said Pryor. The host of multiple shows and productions often produced and run by students themselves, Harlem School of the Arts is by far an integral part of the community and holds a worthy presence in the development of the arts.