April 21, 2010; New York Times | A group of donors has decided that New York City’s Harlem School of the Arts, which has been training young people in dance, music, theater and visual arts for nearly 50 years, is too important to fail. After the school was forced to shut down on April 1 because its money had run out, The Herb Alpert and Starr Foundations and two anonymous givers stepped forward on Wednesday with a $1 million lifeline. In addition, the singer Mary J. Blige will lead a group of celebrities that have pledged to raise more funds that the troubled school needs to keep operating.
The New York Times also reports that New York City will continue to support the school by investing in its building and making grants. At a news conference on Wednesday New York Mayor Michael 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.”
Some 3,000 students a year take classes at the school, and graduates have gone on to some of the city’s best performance high schools, then excellent colleges and renowned conservatories like Juilliard. The school’s financial troubles have been blamed on the board, and as part of the rescue plan, five of the six members have been replaced. As its first order of business, the newly constituted board plans to conduct a thorough review of the school’s finances to find out how much money is needed to keep it operating with a clean balance sheet.
While some rich and powerful donors have done their part to start nursing the school back to health, community members are also being asked to do their part. New York City Councilwoman Inez Dickens told parents who were at Wednesday’s announcement that “a bake sale could buy a violin.”—Bruce Trachtenberg