Neil Waldman has lived in Westchester County for more than 20 years but his heart belongs to the Bronx, the borough of his birth.
After a long and celebrated career as an artist and book illustrator, he had a dream to return to the Bronx to create a free Saturday art academy for young underprivileged artists. Waldman pulled together a team of noted illustrators, designers and art educators to teach young students the skills and tools necessary to create portfolios for college acceptance. He dreamt of discovering young artists who would go on to realize their dreams of being able to do something they loved as a career and, in turn, transform their lives and break the chains of poverty.
In September 2006, that dream became a reality when the Fred Dolan Art Academy opened its doors.
The school runs on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. out of P.S. 306, inside the public high school for which the art school is named.
“Fred Dolan was a dear friend of mine and one of the most remarkable educators I ever knew,” Waldman said. “When Fred became principal of P.S. 306, the school and the surrounding area were dangerous but, through his leadership and incredible programming that he brought into the school, he was able to affect change, which then spread throughout the neighborhood. He was the inspiration.”
The free Saturday school provides pizza, Metro Cards and art supplies, in addition to the priceless education, starting from 6th grade. The first year the school opened, its only senior was accepted to five colleges and chose to study architecture at the New York City Institute of Technology. Since then, 23 students have graduated from the art school and all 23 have received scholarships to schools like The Rhode Island School of Design, The Art Institute of Chicago, Dartmouth College, New York University, The School of Visual Arts, USC and many others.
There is no application or testing required to attend the art academy, but there are three covenants:
1. You must show up every Saturday.
2. You must work hard.
3. You must not cause any discipline problems.
“We accept all students who want to join regardless of level of talent or GPA in school,” Waldman said. “But what is remarkable is the effect this program has had on our students’ grades. We’ve had many students join with averages in the low 70’s and, by the time they apply to college, we’ve only had one student with less than a B average. And that is without a penny spent on academic tutoring. It’s amazing what the incentive of a free college education can do.”
The Saturday art school was initially funded by grants from The Children’s Aid Society and The DreamYard Project, but funding was recently pulled after budget cuts, and the art academy became a 501(c)(3) last year so the school could continue.
On Tuesday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m., the school will hold its first charity art auction at 750 Lexington Ave. in New York City. Art from current students as well as their acclaimed teachers will be auctioned off. The opening bids will be low to encourage as much participation as possible. On hand will be the artists themselves and their families, providing a unique opportunity to see how clearly this school has made a difference in so many lives.
“We believe there is not another school like this in the country. We start in middle school and expose the students to the highest level of professional art instruction, the type of training that most young artists are not exposed to until they get to college,” Waldman said. “Our school is literally taking kids who live in homeless shelters and the housing projects in the South Bronx—kids whose parents didn’t go to college, let alone anyone in their neighborhood—and get them into great schools, with scholarships.”
“One of our recent students just received a $260,000 scholarship to Dartmouth. As soon as our students realize we are telling the truth about their future, they start working harder in school. We believe that, from the time they enter our school until the time they graduate, their GPAs have gone up by an average of 14 points.”
Innate talent isn’t a requirement; they accept all kids, regardless of ability.
“If they work hard, they will build their technical skills and go on to be successful artists” Waldman said. “The number one thing art schools are looking for, across all majors, is fine draftsmanship, without exception. Can a student sit down in front of a Coke bottle and copy it identically?”
Catch The Rising Stars is the name of the auction and it will feature more than 40 works of art with minimum bids around $100. There will be champagne and hors d’oeuvres and plenty of opportunity to meet the artists themselves. A
suggested donation of $75 is requested to attend the event.
Why not come and drink champagne and see beautiful art and help some pretty special kids reach their dreams?
You never know, you just might meet the next Picasso.
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on the school and the
upcoming auction or to
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