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Harlem School of the Arts Completes $9.5 Million-Dollar Building Transformation

Photos of the building, credit – Amy Barkow/Barkow Photo

Work on the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) $9.5-million dollar Renaissance Project, underwritten by legendary award-winning musician/philanthropist, Herb Alpert and the Herb Alpert Foundation, was completed on time and on budget, it was announced by HSA Board Chair Charles Hamilton, Jr.  Over the past decade, HSA has received over $17 million dollars in financial support from the Herb Alpert Foundation, and that includes this latest gift.  

The project, which broke ground a year ago, has transformed the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) into a dazzling cultural center.  The building, which was originally designed by architect Ulrich Franzen, has received a major facelift.  A main section of the austere brick façade has been replaced with a cutting- edge, angled glass curtain wall, offering the community and the public at large, a transparent view inside the facility where so many young lives have been enriched, and given a sense of purpose and focus.  The remainder of the brick exterior has been repaired, treated and stained; windows replaced, exterior lighting and new signage added. 

“We have been this walled in oasis for a very long time.  Now, we can share the beauty that our young people create within the safety of this space, and under the guidance of our extraordinary staff and teaching artists,” said HSA President, Eric Pryor.  

The design team led by Celia Imrey/Imrey Studio, LLC, a New York-based design studio specializing in museum and library design, along with Eric K. Daniels, the architect of record, brought their combined decades of experience and a clear approach to the work of enhancing and reconfiguring key portions of the 37,000-square foot building, while Seamus Henchy and Associates, Inc. managed the flow of work.

Photos of the building, credit – Amy Barkow/Barkow Photo

Once shielded from view, the spectacular public space/performance gallery dubbed, Dorothy Maynor Hall, has been fully re-imagined by legendary architect/acoustician, John Storyk, who first rose to prominence for his work on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios.  Mr. Storyk, a founding partner of WSDG a leading architectural acoustic consulting and design firm, celebrating 50-years in business – retrofitted the gallery with a sophisticated audio and high definition video system; including retractable absorbent acoustic curtains, acoustic ceiling baffles, production lighting, new wood flooring, the use of perforated natural wood paneling that helps modulate sound, and a control center built on the second-floor balcony.  The high fidelity, duo audio/speaker system was donated by Harman Kardon, a division of Stamford-based Harman International Industries, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics.

The thorough modernization of the gallery space renders it one of the best performance/music venues in the city, and allows optimized use of the space for a wide range of events, while providing students a professional performance environment that will drive their creativity and motivate them to excel. 

“As musicians, whether performing or recording, my wife Lani and I know the value of having a space that allows the audience a full appreciation of what we artists are delivering,” said Herb Alpert, who has taken a personal, hands-on interest in the renovation project. Through their Foundation, the multi-Grammy Award-winning couple has been supporting numerous arts education programs and institutions.  The annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts has provided substantial financial support to mid-career artists – this year announcing a doubling of awardees from five to ten. “When Lani and I became involved with this organization, it was because the kids who bring their passion for the arts to this building deserve a space as beautiful as the art they create.  And that’s what this renovation is all about – the kids.  They are the future of art, and they are our future artists.” 

Photos of the building, credit – Amy Barkow/Barkow Photo

Immediately on entering HSA, visitors will check in at the newly positioned security desk before gaining access into the main gallery and other parts of the building. A series of decorative murals, installed on the walls in the main lobby, visualize the mission and promise of HSA, and charts the history of the organization and its founder Dorothy Maynor. The HSA Store shares space with the Cafe, a vibrant, sun drenched waiting area for parents, students and visitors. The back-garden courtyard has been revamped.  Improvements include the installation of a new uplighting system that provides dramatic night time effects, as the light reflects against the natural rock wall, and the building’s signature built-in waterfall becomes visible from the street. 

“Within the scope of work that has just been completed were a number of necessary repairs that will make the building far more energy-efficient, and will improve the safety of our students and the public,” said Mr. Pryor. 

Board Chair, Charles Hamilton, Jr., reiterated the importance of the renovation to the 56-year-old institution.  “This has always been a special place with the highest standards of professional training. With the completion of the Renaissance Project, HSA has truly transformed into a cultural destination. I believe it is what our founder imagined from the very beginning, and this is all thanks to the generosity of Herb Alpert, his wife Lani Hall, and Rona Sebastian, President of the Herb Alpert Foundation and a member of the HSA Board.”

Students will not immediately have an opportunity to see the changes made to the building due to COVID-19 and the suspension of in-person classes. “But when they do, what a moment that will be,” said Rona Sebastian.  “Herb, Lani, and I are hoping to be there, to share in the excitement when the doors of HSA open once again, welcoming back the hundreds of students who annually fill the corridors of this historic institution.” The ribbon cutting celebration, which had been originally scheduled to take place this Fall, has now been moved to Spring of 2021.

The completion of the transformative project marks another milestone in the evolution of the corridor along 141st-145th and St. Nicholas Avenue. HSA sits as an anchor on the extended block which is fast becoming an educational campus comprised of the Neighborhood Charter School, which opened for classes in Fall of 2019; the Harlem Academy, which broke ground on their 29,000-square foot, five-story facility this past August, and the newly renovated Harlem School of the Arts.  

The Harlem School of the Arts, recognized as a multidisciplinary cultural institution, providing accessible quality arts education, world-class training, and an interdisciplinary curriculum, is perfectly poised to become an inclusive arts partner to the members of this campus, as it has been to other schools and organizations in the community. HSA reaches over 10,000 individuals annually through a variety of public programs and community performances; more than 1200 students enroll in classes annually; the organization holds more than 4,000 group classes, provides over 5,000 private lessons, and has a growing roster of alumni who have gone on to top ranked colleges, universities and conservatory programs, as well as celebrated careers in the arts, politics and other industries.

Photo courtesy HSA archive

Dorothy Maynor, a retired artist, gifted with one of the most beautiful operatic voices, founded the school and was responsible for the construction of the historic building.  At the time when Ms. Maynor’s School of the Arts was nestled in the basement of St. James Presbyterian (corner of 141st & St. Nicholas Ave.), a young man with a golden horn was beginning his musical journey and about to make musical history on the opposite coast.  Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass would go on to break record sales.    More than forty-years later, though never having the opportunity to meet one another, they would be brought together by their mutual love of the arts, by their passionate commitment to children and to ensuring their access to arts education. These two artists also have a deep recognition of the transformative power of the arts to stimulate creativity, build self-confidence, and add a dimension of beauty to a child’s life that’s important in the development of creative thinkers, and tomorrow’s innovative leaders. 

At present, the Harlem School of the Arts remains open online, 24/7, with a schedule of Fall virtual classes and public programs readily available by visiting  

About the Author

New York Trend is a weekly news publication that focuses on issues and lifestyles of the African & Caribbean American communities throughout the New York metropolitan area and Nassau and Suffolk Counties of Long Island. It is a respected and well recognized news publication that has been in existence since 1989. Owner, Publisher and Executive Director, Dr. Teresa Taylor Williams has been at the helm of this award-winning publication since its inception. New York Trend continues to be the only black woman-owned, metropolitan newspaper in New York and Long island. New York Trend is the largest black-owned newspaper throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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