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Harlem School of the Arts was founded in 1964 by internationally acclaimed concert soprano Dorothy Maynor, inspired by her fervent belief that world-class training in the arts stimulates the child, strengthens the family and gives pride of ownership to the community. She opened Harlem School of the Arts in the basement of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem at a time when the community suffered severe physical blight, high levels of poverty, and offered few cultural resources for its young people. From toddlers to adults, the students who came through its doors developed an invaluable sense of purpose and focus, whether or not they pursued professional careers in the arts.

 

In May of 1979, HSA opened its state-of-the art 37,000 square foot, award-winning facility nestled at the base of historic Hamilton Heights. Along with the Studio Museum in Harlem, Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Apollo Theater, HSA became one of the pioneering cultural institutions whose robust presence uptown became a linchpin of Harlem’s renewal. In 2013, HSA received an extraordinary leadership gift of $6,000,000 from acclaimed trumpeter Herb Alpert, who said his life changed the day his elementary school teacher put a trumpet in his hands. The facility was renamed the Herb Alpert Center in 2013, in recognition of the landmark gift from the legendary jazz trumpeter’s Foundation.

Thanks to the generous support of the Herb Alpert Foundation, HSA was able to undertake a major renovation of its facility, beginning in 2019, to improve visibility and enhance visitor experience. The renovation includes a new glass façade and entryway to increase curb appeal and transparency from the street, a redesigned main stairway and courtyard that has improved the flow and attractiveness of the space, and improvements to the courtyard and café. The block has been transformed. HSA now stands as a gleaming beacon of renewal and a vibrant hub of cultural activity.

From its humble beginnings with 20 piano students in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church, HSA has blossomed into an extraordinary cultural institution that has served more than 60,000 students over the last 56 years, many of whom directly credit Harlem School of the Arts with having changed their lives.

 

TimeLine

  • 1947-1979

    1947

    April 21, 1947 – Dorothy Maynor incorporates the St. James Community Center, Inc. in the basement of the St. James Presbyterian Church where her husband Reverend Shelby Rooks was the pastor.

    1964

    The St. James Community Center, Inc. is officially renamed The Harlem School of the Arts. Mrs. Samuel Dushkin and Halina Rodzinski are elected Co-Chairmen of the Board of Trustees

    1966

    Arthur Mitchell, leading dancer with New York City Ballet, joins faculty. HSA[1] is at full capacity with 300 students enrolled.

    May 17, 1966 – New York State Award presented to HSA by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller “for outstanding dedication and accomplishment in developing the artistic talents of the children of Harlem.” Five children from the HSA performed at the event, held at Union College in Schenectady.

    John Philip Sousa, III[2] (grandson of the famous “The March King”) elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

    Wanda Toscanini Horowitz[3] forms the Women’s Committee[4] with Leontyne Price[5] serving as Honorary Chairman.

    1967

    The New York Times publishes “To Make Beauty in Harlem” on HSA November 5, 1967: “What we are counting on is that we can add new dimensions to their lives, the most important of which is beauty.” –Dorothy Maynor

    1969

    HSA inaugurates its new theater faculty[6] with a production of Aime Cesaire’s A Season in the Congo.

    The new theater was converted from an abandoned garage.

    1972

    Dorothy Maynor serves as visiting lecturer for Yale University’s Department of Drama (1971–72).

    1974

    HSA enrollment is about 800 students with a 66 member multi-racial faculty.

    March 4, 1974 – The HSA Heritage Society One Hundred Voice Choir[7] , with Dorothy Maynor as conductor, makes its Lincoln Center debut. The sold out Gala Benefit Performance at Alice Tully Hall features soloists Betty Lane; Louise Parker, George Shirley and McHenry Boatwright[8] with a surprise performance by Metropolitan Opera star Martina Arroyo. Mayor Abraham D. Beame[9] and Mrs. Beame are honorary chairmen, and Alice Tully[10] is chairman of the event.

    1975

    HSA celebrates its 10th anniversary and breaks ground for the new building.[11]

    The Heritage Society Chorus performs at the United Nations in celebration of Human Rights Day, and HSA Founder Dorothy Maynor becomes the first woman to conduct at the U.N.

    March 4, 1975 – New York City Mayor Abraham D. Beame issues a proclamation to “Dorothy Maynor in recognition of her outstanding career as a world renowned soprano and her devotion to the people of New York. Her Harlem School of the Arts has given an entire community entrée to the World of Art.”

    1977

    HSA inaugurates its Opportunities for Learning in the Arts program[12] , which provides arts instruction to children in NYC public schools, in response to severe cuts in city funding for public school arts programs.

    1978

    The Municipal Art Society presents HSA with its Citation of Merit in recognition of HSA’s distinctive contribution to the cultural life of New York City

    June 6, 1978 – The Bard Awards for Excellence in Architecture and Urban Design cite HSA building architects Ulrich Franzen & Associates for the design of the building, with special mention of “a grand and welcoming central hall, an attractive exterior courtyard and a myriad of lively class and practice rooms.”

    Dorothy Maynor is presented with the Louis Armstrong Award from the Knickerbocker Business and Professional Women’s Club, Inc. The award is presented by Alice Armstrong[13].

    1979

    HSA’s new building is dedicated.[14]

    Founder Dorothy Maynor retires, appointing internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Betty Allen as new President & CEO.

  • 1980–1989

    1982

    Harlem School of the Arts Orchestra is formed.

    50 children between the ages of six and thirteen perform at the opening of Central Park’s Belvedere Castle.

    1988

    ARTScape Summer Program is introduced.[15]

    Gala opening of the 25th anniversary season of HSA begins with a benefit concert at the Apollo Theater. Actress Phylicia Rashad[16] and pianist Andre Watts[17] are honorary co-chairs. Maestro Zubin Mehta[18] conducts the New York Philharmonic.

    1989

    HSA enters a new relationship with classical radio station WQXR, and launches an annual radiothon on-air fundraiser.

  • 1990–1999

    1990

    Student enrollment at HSA exceeds 1,500 for the first time.

    1992

    November 4, 1992 – HSA Concert Chorale, “Legaci”, directed by Yvonne Hatchett, performs at the One Hundred Year Association at The Museum of City of New York.

    August 10, 1992 – HSA presents The Marie Brooks Caribbean Dance Theater in performance, followed by the legendary Ruby Dee, who reads from her new children’s book, Glow Child at HSA

    July 1992 – HSA students perform at a reception hosted by Democratic Committee Chairman Ron Brown’s wife, Mrs. Alma Brown during the Democratic Convention held in NYC. Audience members included Tipper Gore, Hillary Clinton, Virginia Kelly (Bill Clinton’s mother), and Joyce Dinkins, wife of former NYC Mayor David Dinkins.

    Betty Allen becomes President Emeritus of HSA, and Alicia Adams is named CEO.

    1993

    Miranda McDermott, HSA Chairperson of the Drama and Creative Writing Department for nearly 3 decades, awarded a Harlem School of the Arts Humanitarian Award.

    Fourth annual WQXR Radiothon, co-hosted by radio host Robert Sherman and Ms. Betty Allen, President Emeritus of HSA, features celebrities such as Bobby Short, Martina Arroyo and Mario Barnardi, conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, who lend their support to share why arts education is so important.

    HSA students Oswald Tomlinson and Faith Wallace-Badensen win first and second prizes respectively in a photography competition sponsored by The Black Photographers Circle of The Center for Creative Photographers at Hunter College/CUNY.

    HSA student Nkenge Simpson takes first place at New York Newsday’s Lena Horne Vocal Scholarship Competition.

    1994

    Max Roach and Urban Bush Women are Artists-in-Residence at HSA.

    1996

    Harlem School of the Arts Founder Dorothy Maynor passes away in West Chester, PA at the age of 85.

    1999

    HSA is named one of the eight leading African-American, Asian, Latino or Native American arts organizations in the nation.

  • 2000–2010

    2000

    Camille Giraud Akeju, a former HSA student, becomes President and CEO of HSA

    2001

    The Classical Theatre of Harlem serves as HSA Artists-in-Residence

    2002

    October 12, 2002– 1st Annual HSA Alumni Homecoming

    Honorary Chairperson, Inaugural Homecoming Committee, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Faculty Alumna and star of ABC’s The Practice; Guest Host, Claudio Lescano. Alumni include Charles Lovel, pianist; Camille Giraud Akeju, HSA President & CEO; T. Ray Lawrence, bass-baritone; Priscilla Baskerville, soprano; Gwendolyn Bynum, pianist accompanist; Patricia Bates Eaton, professional chorister with Metropolitan Opera, NYC

    The Classical Theatre of Harlem serves as HSA
    Artists-in-Residence

    2003

    The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities recognizes HSA as “one of the top afterschool arts and humanities based programs in the country”

    HSA honors Betty Allen with Dorothy Maynor Lifetime Service Award

    The Classical Theatre of Harlem serves as HSA
    Artists-in-Residence

    2005

    HSA concludes year-long 40th Anniversary celebration with a benefit honoring legendary actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee and corporate sponsor Saatchi & Saatchi

    HSA students perform with multi-Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Alicia Keys as part of VH1’s Save The Music campaign

    HSA collaborates with Target to celebrate Black History Month with a special performance by singer/songwriter John Legend featuring HSA students

    2007

    HSA dance students work with London-based choreographer Adesola Akinleye and dancer Sean Graham as Akinleye develops a new work inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

    HSA presents the Harlem Teen Film Festival, celebrating the works of Harlem and Greater New York teen filmmakers (12–18), in collaboration with the Ghetto Film School, the Downtown Community Television Center, Pro-TV and the Global Action Project

    2008

    HSA and the African Film Festival New York present The 2nd Annual Harlem Teen Film Festival

    HSA honors Actress Alfre Woodard, Deloitte CEO Barry Salzberg and Opera Legend Betty Allen at Art Is Life Gala

    HSA presents Prolepsis, the first group exhibition of works by HSA Teaching Artists, and introduces The G-Space Gallery, the newest contemporary gallery space in Harlem.

    2009

    HSA honors Ovation TV with the Visionary Partner Award; Former Board Chairman Robert Levison, with the Betty Allen Lifetime Achievement Award; JPMorgan Chase & Co., with the Outstanding Corporate Citizen Award; and actor Giancarlo Esposito, with the The Dorothy Maynor Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award at 2009 Art Is Life Gala.

    President Emeritus and second President of HSA Betty Allen passes away.

    2010

    HSA presents French artist and textile designer Ghislaine Sabiti in two exciting workshops open to the public that focus on making art with fabrics.

    HSA presents a solo exhibition of Elaine Defibaugh’s large-scale paintings

    HSA presents Hank Paper’s Ascension: The Journey of John Coltrane, a photographic exhibit ten years in the making about the legendary John Coltrane.

  • 2011–2020

    2011

    Yvette L. Campbell becomes new President and CEO of HSA

    Mayor Bloomberg names Saint Nicholas Avenue at 141st Street Dorothy Maynor Place

    Launched and expanded an HSA Advisory Council of artists, former HSA board members, and leading figures include Wynton Marsalis, Katherine Farley, Spike Lee, Reynold Levy, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, Margo Lion, and led by HSA Chair Emeritus, Robert Levinson.

    HSA board and new leadership successfully complete two matching fundraising campaigns each raising over $100 million: 100 days $1million and Herb Alpert Challenge.

    RESEARCH these to decide which to post New York Times features, Crain’s Business Weekly, Time Out New York Cover photo for best summer camp, a CBS Sunday Morning exclusive, the Today Show, and an entire Project Runway episode filmed at HSA including the visual arts students as part of a challenge to create fashionable evening gowns for painted art

    2012

    Crain’s New York Business on October 21, 2012, reports “A Miracle on 141st Street!” Legendary musician and philanthropist, Herb Alpert donates $6 million to the iconic Harlem School of the Arts.

    The HSA Fall 2012 Benefit, held at The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center, which raised a record breaking $321,000. Herb Alpert was presented with the inaugural Leadership Award.

    HSA has partners with The Disney Theatrical Group to pilot a children’s version of their seminal work The Lion King.

    2013

    The Harlem School of the Arts is renamed The Herb Albert Center in honor of leadership gift from musician and philanthropist Herb Alpert.

    HSA introduces it’s new brand logo courtesy of Erwin Penland advertising agency and new board member Lisa Diller.

    Twyla Tharp and Arturo O’Farrill debut as HSA Artists in Residence.

    The American Ballet Theatre (ABT) selects the Harlem School of the Arts as one of only four affiliate schools in the world to offer ABT National Ballet Curriculum to its dance students. HSA’s entire ballet faculty has been certified in the ABT National Curriculum; recognized for its commitment to excellence as an essential part of its ballet program.

    The HSA Fall 2013 Benefit raises over $750,00. The gala honored Lawrence Fishburne & Gina Torres, Ford Foundation, and Christopher & Janice Savin Williams.

    HSA launches it’s Family Enrichment Series low-cost & free public performances, lectures, master classes, and exhibitions, with both established and emerging guest artists such as George C. Wolfe, Phylicia Rashad, Melba Moore, Kelly Thompkins Hall, Jason Moran, Arturo O’Farrill, Bill T. Jones, Ronald K. Brown, Paco Cao.

    HSA welcomes Goldman Sach Community Teamworks Volunteers who work with us to rejuvenated designated art labs.

    2014

    For the second consecutive year, Harlem School of the Arts remains one of only four affiliate schools in the world to offer the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) National Ballet Curriculum to its dance students. HSA entire ballet faculty, remains strong in their commitment to excellence, and certified in the ABT curriculum. 100% of HSA’s students training in the curriculum passed their assessments.

    Legendary Jazz club Minton’s presented HSA’s Advanced Jazz Combo as part of a three part Sunday Jazz Brunch Series: Rising Stars of Jazz.

    Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) conducted 3 Jazz for Young people concerts at HSA.

    GRAMMY award-winning musician, Arturo O’Farrill returns as HSA Artist-in-Residence.

    2015

    HSA celebrates 50 Years and the 50,000 lives changed, having awarded more than $1.1 million dollars in Financial Aid and Scholarships.

    For the third consecutive year, Harlem School of the Arts remains one of only four affiliate schools in the world to offer the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) National Ballet Curriculum to its dance students. HSA ballet faculty, certified in the ABT National curriculum.

    As part of the JKO School’s inaugural Bridge Class, HSA sends the first class of students to study at American Ballet Theatre (ABT) once weekly, as a bridge to their professional training programs fully funded by ABT. A total of 21 HSA dance students attended an ABT event at the Metropolitan Opera House, where Choreographer Lar Lubovitch selected four students for children’s roles in American Ballet Theatre’s production of his Othello performed at the Metropolitan Opera House May 19-21, 2016. HSA students, Devin Graves and Rebecca Hametz-Berner, were 2 of the 4 selected.

    HSA 2012 partnership with The Disney Theatrical Group which produce pilot a children’s version of their seminal work The Lion King, releases, The Kids and JR versions featuring HSA students in photographs and video.

    For the fourth consecutive year Goldman Sach Community Teamworks Volunteers return, making Goldman Sachs through GS Gives to date is our largest corporate sponsor with over $500,000 invested.

    Celebrating 50 Years and the 50,000 lives changed:
    HSA has awarded more than $1.1 million dollars in Financial Aid & Scholarships.

    Five HSA children have starred on Broadway and off-Broadway productions and on television, including Sesame Street, The Lion King, Little Miss Sunshine, and performed on tour with Bruno Mars.

    Two HSA Prep scholarship program students have been accepted to the Clive Davis Institute for Music Moguls at New York University.

    In September, HSA Students record “Untitled” CD launches