For nearly 50 years, the Harlem School of the Arts has given generations of mostly black and Latino children entree into worlds often otherwise out of their reach. It put violins and other orchestral instruments in their hands, ballet slippers on their feet and Shakespeare on their tongues.
But on Friday, the school’s building was quiet, closed by the board of directors, which told parents in an e-mail message on Thursday that the school was being shuttered because of a lack of financing.
“We are virtually out of money, with no clear sources ahead of us,” John W. Corwin, the school’s interim executive director, wrote in the message.
Financing for the nonprofit school, which has operated mostly during after-school hours and on weekends, has been generated through tuition, private donors as well as city and state arts grants.
Mr. Corwin, who could not be reached for comment on Friday, wrote that the school would be closed until April 10, by which time the board will have determined if the school will be ended for good. He wrote that the board will “continue to tirelessly look for funds, in a much more public appeal than we have in the past.”
Christopher Paci, the board’s chairman, said the board simply could not drum up enough money over the last couple of years to cover the school’s operating costs. “As the economy turned and a number of our institutional donors cut back on their giving, our revenue from fund-raising shrank dramatically as our expenses remained the same,” Mr. Paci said.
He said he has been constantly searching for opportunities to keep the doors open. “If an angel or group of angels come to the doorstep immediately we’ll be able to save the school. If not, then the reality is bleak, and that’s what we’re up against.”
He said of the school, “I’ve seen with my own eyes the effect it has on the lives of the kids who go there.” At least $500,000 is needed to stay open through the end of the academic year.
The closing came two weeks after the board of directors met with parents and told them that they were laying off five faculty members and making other cuts in a bid to reassure donors and secure additional financing.
News of the developments rippled through the tight-knit community of students, parents and teachers, some of whom blamed lackluster fund-raising, financial mismanagement and a disconnect between the board and the Harlem community.
“We can only blame those in charge, the C.E.O.’s, the board members who didn’t take a real interest in saving the school,” said Eva Hall, whose 13-year-old granddaughter, Bobbi, takes dance and theater classes there. “They’re not even from the community. It was like they didn’t really care about H.S.A.; it’s obvious now.”
James Barlow, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jada, takes drama and modern dance classes at the school, said: “I’m just shocked. It’s one of the pillars of the community.”
The school was founded in 1964 by the concert singer Dorothy Maynor, who began teaching a handful of youngsters from 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, teaching them 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 universities like Juilliard. Some have appeared on Broadway and in feature films.
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