The Harlem School of the Arts, on the brink of being shut down permanently amid a storm of financial troubles, has won a reprieve by donors and city officials who stepped in to resuscitate the well-known institution.
The school has found financial rescuers.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced plans to reopen the school on Saturday.
The school was shuttered on April 1 after the board of directors announced that money had run out, and that without “angels” descending with the $500,000 it would take to keep the doors open until the summer, the school would be closed indefinitely.
Those angels arrived this week with $1 million. The cash came from four organizations, two of which donated anonymously.
The Herb Alpert Foundation contributed $500,000. Hank Greenberg’s Starr Foundation and two anonymous donors are giving money, and a group of celebrities led by the singer Mary J. Blige has made a commitment to raise more funds.
“Arts are an important part of every good education, and so it’s critical that we did everything we could to keep this organization’s doors open,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “Without a doubt, these are challenging times for the city’s nonprofits, but it’s vital that through strong public-private partnerships we support the programs that make a huge difference in the lives of New Yorkers. And the Harlem School of the Arts is certainly one of those institutions.”
The city will continue to invest capital funds in the school’s building and make grants to the school, said Kate Levin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
As part of the plan to buoy and reopen the school, five of the six board members were replaced with newly elected members. When Mr. Bloomberg announced the change in leadership, the crowd, including dozens of parents, teachers and alumni, erupted in cheers.
An examination of the school’s finances by The New York Times showed a sharp decline in fund-raising, an increase in expenses and questionable financial management by the board, which parents and teachers blamed for the school’s dismal financial health. The relationship between the board and parents was arms-length at best, said Ephraim Emmanuel, the president of the parents association and a newly elected member of the board of directors.
About an hour before the press conference, Mr. Emmanuel called the reorganization a rebirth for the school. “But now we know we have to be forever vigilant,” he said.
The four other new members of the board are: Charles Hamilton, managing director for strategy and investment at La Cité Development L.L.C.; Milton Irvin, managing director at UBS; Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University; and Janice Savin Williams, co-founder of the Williams Capital Group.
Mr. Hamilton, the new chairman of the board, said the first order of business would be a thorough review of finances to determine the school’s needs, and how much money it would take to make the school solvent.
Ms. Levin said that two issues in particular troubled the city: the lack of recent audits, and the amount of back payroll taxes owed. Records show that the school owes more than $400,000.
The school was founded in 1964 by the concert singer Dorothy Maynor, who began teaching a handful of youngsters using a piano in the basement of the St. James Church, next door to the school’s current location at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue. Ms. Maynor died in 1996.
The school serves 3,000 students a year, training them in four core artistic disciplines: dance, music, theater and visual arts. Alumni have gone on to some of the best performance high schools in the city and to top-tier colleges and conservatories like Juilliard. Some have appeared on Broadway and in feature films.
Over the past few weeks, Harlem’s power brokers stitched together a patchwork of donors, recruited new board members and sorted through the details of the school’s dire financial state.
City Councilwoman Inez Dickens made an impassioned plea to those gathered at the school yesterday, warning that the battle was won with the help of wealthy donors and the city, but it would be up to the community to win the war.
She said that “a bake sale could buy a violin,” and likened the school to rich soil that needed to be nurtured.
“Harlem School of the Arts is a phenomenal institution, but more important than that, it is a nourishing garden, a rich garden that takes all of our children and makes the flowers of our future grow,” she said. “And when we heard, just a mere few weeks ago, that Harlem School of the Arts was in trouble, then we had to step up to the plate, we had to save this institution.”
courtesy of lukescorner.ning.com