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Photo by Ruth Morgan

Photo by Ruth Morgan

HARLEM SCHOOL OF THE ARTS

Dorothy Maynor, Founder; William E. Terry, Interim Executive Director 

“The mission of the Harlem School of the Arts is to enrich the lives of children and their families in the Harlem community and beyond, through exposure to and instruction in the arts.”

“What I dream of is changing the image held by children. We have made them believe that everything beautiful is outside the Harlem community. I want them to make beauty in this community.” —Dorothy Maynor (1910-1996)

 

This was the “impossible dream” which inspired Maynor to create the Harlem School of the Arts which is now housed in an award-winning structure designed by Ulrich Franzen at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue. Formed in 1964, it grew from humble beginnings in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church into a school with a comprehensive arts program serving over 3,000 children and adults, mostly African-American and Latino.

 

Before HSA, there had only been one attempt to build a musical school in the Harlem community. In 1919, violinist David I. Martin and pianist Helen Elise Smith incorporated the MartinSmith School with a faculty which included the celebrated singer Mme. Selika. After Martin’s death in 1923, the school eventually ceased to operate.

 

Because of her celebrity as one of the greatest sopranos, Maynor was ideally suited to the task of building an arts center.

 

She drew on the expertise of her good friends Russell W. and Rowena W. Jelliffe who built the famous Karamou Theatre in Cleveland. Maynor was adored and respected by the rich and famous, many of whom gave her the kind of financial support she needed to build HSA.

 

Maynor served as Executive Director of HSA until her retirement in 1979. From the moment one entered the building, her dynamic presence was felt. With loving care, she oversaw every detail in operating the school. Her immediate successor, Betty Allen, built on the Maynor legacy and carried it to a new level of excellence.

 

In her current role as President Emeritus, Allen lends her expertise to help maintain HSA’s high standards. The leadership torch has been passed down to Darryl Durham and Camile Giraud Akeju, respectively. At the moment, the school is being led by an Interim Executive Director, William E. Terry.

 

As stated in its brochure: “The mission of the Harlem School of the Arts is to enrich the lives of children and their families in the Harlem community and beyond, through exposure to and instruction in the arts.” 

 

—by RAOUL ABDUL