Bad Idea

How does this sound to you?

Take a flourishing art school, one which has been an intrinsic part of the lower east side community (and beyond) since 1895 and shut it down for two years so it can be renovated along with the rest of the building which houses the non-profit organization with which the school is affiliated.

Okay, so far. Old building, old (bordering on ancient) building systems, it’s probably time — not just for aesthetic but also for practical and safely reasons — to do some real work. In fact, it seems like an exciting leap for the art school into the 21st century.

Now fast forward to the scheduled re-opening in 2014/15:

Well, let’s start off with the fact that during the renovations little thought was given to finding interim space for the students, or worse, the hard working instructors who today make the school so special. There’s been NO art school during the renovations and so it’s likely a lot of people who had taught or learned at the art school for years have gone elsewhere or stopped taking classes at all during the construction. Many of them might not be back.

And the art school they are supposed to want to come back to, which had formerly been housed in a huge light-filled fifth floor space with high ceilings, is now relegated to the building’s “ground floor” with much lower ceilings and much smaller windows and little natural light.

The  “renovations” seem less exciting now, right?

And wait, there’s more.  One of the few affordable darkrooms in New York City has been shuttered permanently (no pun intended).  The welding studio is gone too.

Getting uncomfortable with the plan? No kidding. So are we.

And you might be wondering, “What’s in the old space on the fifth floor?”  Well, post-renovation there will be a “multi-purpose” space up there. There will be space reserved from seniors and the rest of it, well the plans are a little up in the air but it seems destined to be used sometimes for rented events, sometimes for community meetings, and probably a lot of its time underutilized.  Meanwhile, back downstairs, the Art School  — which was home to the likes of Louise Nevelson, Chaim Gross, Ben Shahn, Moses Soyer, Zero Mostel and countless others is now an afterthought of the institution. The hundreds of middle school and high school photography students — many of whom were dependent on scholarships — now have no school. Adult photography and welding students, some of whom have been attending the school for years and even decades, will have to seek out far more expensive (and elusive) alternatives to continue their art.

Heard enough? Us too.  A smaller and darker space, cuts to integral parts of the school, abandonment of EA’s mission — all of that convince us that EA’s plan for the art school is a bad idea. And so in response we’ve formed the Organizing Committee to Save the Art School (AKA “oc2sas”) with a plan of persuading the Powers-That-Be to renovate the renovation plans. Our August letter to the EA community should give you a good overview of our concerns.

We hope you join us. Email us at oc2sas@juno.com.


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