Arts and Minds
Highly Regarded Local Arts Education Group Stays the Course
To stroll in Tribeca in 2019 is to apprehend what is happening throughout Lower Manhattan. Buildings – along with their occupants and uses – are in perpetual flux. Amid this tumult is a symbol of local continuity: the Church Street School for Music and Art (CSS).
Headquartered at 74 Warren Street for two decades, the school relocated in 2017 to the space formerly occupied by the Flea Theater at 41 White Street. (Three years earlier, the Flea had moved to new quarters, at 20 Thomas Street.)
This represented both a reprieve and a homecoming for the organization. A reprieve because it had been buffeted by series of rent increases over the previous decade as its southern Tribeca neighborhood gentrified, which called into question its very survival. A homecoming because CSS, which was co-founded in 1990 by Dr. Lisa Ecklund-Flores (she holds a PhD in Developmental Psychology) and Lauri Bailey in a cramped, second-floor walkup space at 311 Church Street, near Walker Street, was returning to northern Tribeca.
Recently, the Broadsheet asked Dr. Ecklund-Flores, who has been the sole proprietor of CSS for many years, to reflect on the move north and the challenges faced in relocating to a new neighborhood.
Broadsheet: It has been almost two years since your big move. What was the biggest challenge during this time?
Dr. Ecklund-Flores: We love our new space on a landmarked block in the gallery district of northern Tribeca, but we’ve experienced attrition in our most remote neighborhoods, like the Financial District and Battery Park City. We have a long affiliation with Battery Park City that goes back to the 1990s and are committed to sustaining that relationship.
Broadsheet: While the physical location moved north a few blocks, CSS still maintains a presence in and around Battery Park City, having partnered with Asphalt Green. What is this partnership about and how does it keep you in touch with Battery Park City?
Dr. Ecklund-Flores: We are super excited that we are able to stay in touch with our Battery Park City families in our satellite location at Asphalt Green. Our acclaimed music faculty offers instrumental music lessons there every day after school from 3:00 to 7:00 pm. In addition, this year, for the first time, we are also offering our popular early childhood drop-off program in the mornings: music, art and play every day. We also run an Adult Chorus in Battery Park City every week on Wednesdays at 1:00 pm, in the Battery Park Conservancy space on River Terrace. We are very grateful to them for partnering with us on space. And this fall for the first time we are also offering instrumental lessons in FiDi, near Bowling Green, as well.
Broadsheet: Now that you’re settled in, tell us about the school and your programs.
Dr. Ecklund-Flores: We have about 700 students ranging in age from two to 92 years old on White Street and local satellite locations in FiDi and Battery Park City. We have another 300 students in our outreach programs in the South Bronx. We offer about 40 classes on any given week, in addition to private lessons on about 15 different kinds of instruments. We have 45 renowned teaching artists and musicians who teach our classes. This is our 30th anniversary year, and we estimate that we’ve served about 20,000 downtown families since our founding.
We also have many community events, like our acclaimed Gingerbread House Decorating Workshops in December, and our popular block party, The Happening, in May. And of course Church Street School is a presence at community events too, offering open art experiences and student and faculty musical performances all around the community, at events like the Taste of Tribeca, Taste of Seaport and Taste of Battery Park City.
Broadsheet: What excites this generation of children that is different from 25 years ago?
Dr. Ecklund-Flores: Clearly the extensive availability of technology on phones and computers is transforming the current generation. This sort of flies in the face of our philosophy at Church Street School. Our motto is “Make more music. Make more art.” By that we mean, engage in the physical process of art and music making, because it is good for every individual and good for the community. It is therapeutic to make music and art, and it draws people together. We don’t allow cell phone use in our classrooms. Despite the seeming distraction of technology, kids are really happy to unplug and create art and music at Church Street School.
No matter what age you are, humans are drawn to creating things, and we specialize in nurturing the creative spirit in all our students.
The most popular instruments are piano, guitar and drums. We have a lot of vocal students too. Our Creative Arts Club, for six- to 12-year-olds, meets Monday to Friday from 3:00 to 6:00 pm, and is also growing exponentially. We have other Studio Art classes for that age as well, like Drawing Technique and Textile Arts. We pick kids up from the local schools and walk them up to White Street to participate in our programs.
Broadsheet: What kind of classes do you have for the smaller children?
Dr. Ecklund-Flores: In addition to our new drop-off program for little ones at Asphalt Green in Battery Park City, every day we run a popular drop-in program called “Little Creators” for kids 16 months and older, with a caregiver, at our White Street location. Each 90-minute class includes free play, singing, rhythm instruments, movement and visual art.
And I still teach a toddler/adult music and movement class each week on Wednesday morning. It’s the highlight of my week! I love following the stream of consciousness of a toddler, and I’ve been doing this for four decades, so that class is one of our little gems. There’s also a popular toddler/adult art class that directly follows my music class on Wednesdays.
Broadsheet: At what age are they ready for actual weekly lessons? What’s the youngest age for music lessons and the age range of students taking lessons in how many and what kind of instruments?
Dr. Ecklund-Flores: We typically advise that students can start instrumental lessons at five to six years old, after they have the attention span and fine motor coordination to support that kind of activity. For those families that want their younger children to be engaged around instrumental lessons, we have Explore! Piano — a class for four- and five-year-olds that is a combination of Dalcroze Eurhythmics and group piano lessons. These classes are fun and upbeat and combine a general music class with exposure to making music at the piano. A great pre-instrument class for younger kids is Explore! Music for three and four-year-olds, which is our signature Dalcroze program for young children.
For more information about the Church Street School, please call 212-571-7290, or browse: ChurchStreetSchool.org.
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