At 141st street lies a local gem; a place where children can be self-expressed and hone in on their inner artist – The Harlem School of Arts. Founded in 1964 by Soprano Dorothy Maynor, today the school provides all kinds of enrichment programs, such as, dance, music, theater and visual arts. However, what may not be apparent to the outsider are the struggles the school has been subject to in recent times and how it is finally pushing its way through them with heightened optimism.
This week, the New York Times reported on Harlem Arts School and steps it has taken to get out of the woods. After facing financial hardships in the spring of 2010, the school was forced to close its doors for three weeks and regroup. Even today, it is left with a $2 million debt, the absence of and barely maintained musical instruments. While this story sounds bleak, its ending is promising.
What changed? The school has a new President and Chief Executive, Yvette L. Campbell.Â In just a matter of months, Campbell has mustered up $2 million from donors, and put the school’s budget on a strict diet. The result; she has reduced the school’s budget by 30% and received the goodwill of other art and academic organizations.
Campbell, a performer with Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble and Elisa Monte Dance gets it at all levels. She is able to streamline the companies financials while recognizing “It’s been quality arts. I see the possibilities and I am trying to get believers on my train.” Sold by her vision, many organizations, support the school. Harlem Children’s Zone has sent hundreds of students to the school for classes, including those from their social services practice.
She has also piqued the interest of Lincoln Center President, Reynold Levy, who is talking about a possible partnership. According to Levy “a force of nature” who has built relationships and trust with people now committed to seeing the school survive. “By the time she walks out of your office, you’re sold,” he said.”
With a lot of will, this financially-challenged school is not permitted to slip through the cracks. According to lawyer and school chairman, Charles Hamilton Jr., “This school saves lives, period. It produces extraordinary young people who go off in life with an appreciation for life and an appreciation of themselves. There aren’t a lot of other institutions in our community that do that.” Charles, is another voice among many in Harlem, such as Apple Arts, that recognize the importance of art as a mechanism for mental, physical and spiritual well being.
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