At long last, a decades-old arts education group has a permanent home uptown. On Tuesday night, the National Dance Institute will inaugurate its first-ever headquarters in central Harlem, complete with studios and a 175-seat performance space.
The National Dance Institute was founded in the 1970s by New York City Ballet star Jacques d'Amboise to bring dance education into city public schools. Today, the group teaches weekly ballet and modern dance classes to some 5,000 kids in grades 4 to 6 at 31 public elementary schools.
Until now, the institute has never had a space to call its own.
Paul King, who directs arts efforts at the New York City Department of Education, said it was "unusual and extraordinary" for an arts education group to obtain its own campus.
“It's sometimes very challenging for arts organizations to actually develop a home where they can bring in large numbers of kids, so I think it's really a tribute to Jacques’s tenacity that he's able to pull this off,” said King.
The brand new National Dance Institute Center for Learning & the Arts on 148th St. in Manhattan (Angel Gardner/National Dance Institute)
The institute's new site is PS 90, a once abandoned former public school on 148th St. between Frederick Douglas and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards. The building was converted into mixed-income condominiums in 2009, but the ground floor space was left vacant, waiting for the right community organization to move in.
Kate D. Levin, Commissioner for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, applauded the National Dance Institute’s move.
“It’s always very exciting to see a space that’s been lying fallow for years get redeveloped,” she said. “It speaks to the fact that the National Dance Institute has been able to command a group of very thoughtful and very loyal donors who believe in this mission for this particular neighborhood at this moment in time.”
The institute bought and renovated the space for $11.5 million dollars, $5 million of which came from a key grant from George Soros' Open Society Foundation.
According to Kathy Landau, the executive director of the National Dance Institute, the group has fared better than other arts education groups because founder d'Amboise was able to bring together a dedicated and deep-pocketed board in the 35 years since the institute has been in business.
Landau said that her group had been looking for a permanent home for years in various parts of the city, and couldn’t be happier about opening on 148th St.
“We just fell in love with the space," she said. "We loved the synergy of returning a former school to a place of education again. But also because the space was so right, and the surrounding community so rich in potential for collaborations. It was one of those things where the stars all aligned.”
Landau said the National Dance Institute has brought its classes to three new Harlem schools this semester, and hopes to continue to play a significant role in the neighborhood.
The new space will be used for after-school programs and performances, and studio space for high-schoolers who currently are not served by the group’s programs.
Various elected officials are expected to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday night, including Mayor Bloomberg and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.