Church Street School Co-Founder Prepares to Step Down
One of the founders of a Lower Manhattan institution is stepping aside. Dr. Lisa Ecklund-Flores announced earlier this month that, after 30 years at the helm of the Church Street School for Music and Art, she plans to retire in August.
“Church Street School was founded by myself and Lauri Bailey in 1990,” she recalls. “We were teachers at another music school, where we had a very successful program for children, but felt misunderstood by the director. So we decided to rent a space and open our own school. We were so naïve about what that meant in terms of starting a business, and we didn’t have any money to finance the business with. We just started offering classes.
“I never dreamed that the school would grow the way it has — from 150 students in the first year to about 1000 students annually now, including our outreach programs,” Dr. Ecklund-Flores reflects. “But the school has continued to maintain its first vision and philosophy: that everyone has a unique artistic voice to be nurtured, and physical experience is the key to actualizing an understanding of the arts. I’m proud of that.”
Annual fundraisers bring together Church Street School’s students, parents and supporters. Above, at a pre-pandemic gathering, New York City Council Member Margaret Chin congratulates Dr. Ecklund-Flores.
“The most surprising part of the School’s evolution is how much of the work has not had anything to do with our vision and philosophy,” she acknowledges. “Rather, it has been about funding and fundraising and who you know, about contentious interactions with landlords and fighting to find affordable space from which to run the school, and financial pressures about how to keep a nonprofit afloat when your mission is affordability and access to the arts for all.”
But, “the single best part of running the School has been seeing the vision happen every day,” she says, with pride. “Watching the students have their artistic awakenings, and still being able to work as a teacher. Seeing the same wonderful work between our talented faculty and their students. Engaging with the Downtown neighborhood at large during our public events, and seeing it happen in the wider community.”
Asked to recall the lowest points in Church Street’s history, Dr. Ecklund-Flores cites moments that attest to a synchronicity between the organization and the community is serves: “The school has suffered extremely difficult financial stress that has almost led to our demise several times. September 11, 2001; the collapse of the economy in 2008, during our expansion; and Hurricane Sandy.” She also recalls, “a fire and flood in our building, and ultimately the sky-rocketing of rent, due to property tax increases that were passed to us by our landlord.”
“Church Street School is a living example of what has happened Downtown,” she elaborates. “When we started the school in 1990, the community was an enclave of artists living in unrenovated industrial lofts. We were successful because they understood what we were trying to do, and we were one of the only services for children Downtown. Lower Manhattan grew and so did we, and we had to relocate from Church Street to Warren Street to meet the demand. Then, September 11 happened, and half the community moved away. We lost half of our enrollment.” But afterward, “the renaissance of Lower Manhattan began, and the community grew exponentially, and so did we! And we expanded again.”
Looking to more recent history, Dr. Ecklund-Flores notes, “with the pandemic and quarantine, we’ve lost a significant segment of our community to an exodus out of the City, and Church Street School continues to show about a 20 percent decrease in enrollment. But I anticipate that Lower Manhattan is going to come back as it always has, and Church Street School will be a through-line for the community, as we have always been.”
In this predicted resurgence, “the staff, faculty and community all will be the School’s greatest source of strength,” she anticipates. “All are aligned and committed to our mission and philosophy—a belief in the transformative and therapeutic power of the arts, and that everyone in the community should have access to that.
Asked why she is stepping down now, Dr. Ecklund-Flores exclaims, “I’m old! I’ve given the School all of my attention for almost my entire adult life, given my best efforts and all of my energy, and it’s time for someone younger and more energetic to take the reins. The School is well situated for this transition. It is going to be important for the community to help make this happen, by maintaining their commitment and support.
Her proudest accomplishment is, “saving the school from demise in 2017, when we were being evicted because we couldn’t afford the rent. We had full enrollment, and nowhere to house the school. I had looked for space for years and never found anything. So when I found the old Flea Theater,” an available performance space on White Street, in Tribeca, “and signed a lease and renovated the space in five weeks, moved the entire school over a weekend and opened without missing a day of classes, that was the hardest and best thing I ever did for the school.”
Still, some goals remain unrealized: “A special needs program, formalized for differently-abled people,” is one she cites that will be left for her successor to implement. “We have always embraced everyone at Church Street School, regardless of their abilities. And we have always created customized programs for those with special needs to shine. But I wanted this to be one of our established foundational programs, and several attempts I have made to partner with other organizations on this have failed. So that should be prioritized going forward, in my opinion.”
Looking further into the organization’s future, Dr. Ecklund-Flores hopes, “that the School will someday have its own building, donated by some wonderful benevolent person. Then the school would have a permanent home, be spared the volatility of the real estate rental market, and have a real asset in its portfolio, as well as the financial stability that comes with it.
Her advice to the people who will lead the School a year from now, a decade from now, a generation from now, is succinct: “Focus your tenacity and perseverance. Keep your eye on the prize. You are working for a higher cause—the facilitation of creative expression, which is the highlight of human existence. It brings people together, and we all need each other.”
For her own future, Dr. Ecklund-Flores says, “I will continue to teach. This is very important to me. And I have a book I want to write, combining my knowledge and experience as a music therapist and as a teacher of Dalcroze Eurhythmics,” an approach that emphasizes concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement, by encouraging the student to gain physical awareness, and experience music through all of the senses. “Once I’ve written this book,” she adds, “I have a fantasy that I can turn it into a teacher-training program, so that what I’ve learned can be perpetuated in the work of others.”
Asked how she hopes to be remembered, she answers, “as a gifted teacher with a dream that helped build confidence and a passion for art and music-making in her students, whose work helped to perpetuate in thousands of others her belief in the power of the arts.”
Jazz in Tribeca
Tribeca’s own percussion king, Grammy Award-winning Robby Ameen, is returning to the live music arena with a Thursday night jazz series at Phillip Williams Posters, at 52 Warren Street. Catch him and his signature Afro-Cuban rhythms starting Thursday, April 29, 7pm to 9pm. Joining Robby are Bob Franceschini on sax, Edsel Gomez on piano, and Lincoln Goines on bass. Suggested donation is $20, which includes a glass of wine. Admission is limited due to covid restrictions; call 212-513-0313 for a reservation.
Robby Ameen has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Ruben Blades, Paul Simon, and many other musicians of note. His most recent album is “Diluvio.”
The Battery Park City Authority asks that the public not interact with or feed the urban wildlife in the neighborhood’s parks and green spaces, and at the waterfront.
Online concert. During trying times, music stills our souls and provides a healing grace. Throughout the season of Lent, Comfort at One will present performances that are inspired by the Gandhi quote: “In the midst of darkness, light persists.” These concerts include improvisations by Julian Wachner, light-inspired Bach cantatas, our 2014 Lenten “Lamentatio” series featuring NOVUS NY and The Choir of Trinity Wall Street, new performances from the Trinity Youth Chorus and St. Paul’s Chapel Choir, and new virtual content on Fridays from our extended family of artists. Free
Person Place Thing is an interview show based on this idea: people are particularly engaging when they speak not directly about themselves but about something they care about. Guests talk about one person, one place, and one thing that are important to them. The result? Surprising stories from great speakers. Host Randy Cohen will be interviewing sculptor Vinnie Bagwell. Vinnie Bagwell began sculpting in 1993. Currently, Bagwell is leading the conception and development of “The Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden”–an urban-heritage public-art project for the City of Yonkers, New York, to commemorate the legacy of the first enslaved Africans to be manumitted by law in the United States, 64 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Depopulation of Downtown
Analysis Documents Migration Out of Lower Manhattan During Pandemic
An intriguing new data analysis from CBRE, the real estate services and investment firm, quantifies how many people left Lower Manhattan permanently during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, “COVID-19 Impact on Migration Patterns,” uses change-of-address requests filed with the U.S. Postal Service to compile a real-time demographic snapshot of inflow and outflow of residents at the neighborhood level. Authors Eric Willet (CBRE’s research director) and Matt Mowell (the senior economist at CBRE Econometric Advisors) establish that each of the eight residential zip codes in Lower Manhattan lost population during 2020.
Rally Focused On Possible Fiscal Cataclysm Facing Battery Park City Condo Owners
On Friday, April 23, a “Rally to Save BPC Homeowners” was held online and in-person to voice concerns among Battery Park City residents who own condominiums that their homes will soon become catastrophically expensive to own, and that the value of their property will decline to zero in the foreseeable future.
These worries are driven by the exotic nature of property ownership in Battery Park City, where homeowners, landlords, and developers do not own outright the acreage they occupy, but instead lease the space (through the year 2069) from a government agency—the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA)—in exchange for yearly remittances of “ground rent,” as well as so-called “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOT). The latter category of payments is determined by municipal tax assessors and passed directly to the City by the BPCA.
Discussions between the Authority and the Battery Park City Homeowners Coalition (which represents condominium owners) have been ongoing for several years. To read more…
Postponed Park Premieres
New FiDi Public Space Is Culmination of More Than a Decade of Advocacy and Planning
A new green space that Lower Manhattan community leaders have been advocating for since 2009 is now open to the public. Elizabeth Berger Plaza is named in honor of the former president of the Dowtown Alliance, who died in 2012, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
First proposed in 2009 and formally approved in 2012, the park is bounded by Greenwich Street, Edgar Street, and Trinity Place, along with an exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. The new park was formed by combining two existing, smaller plazas, and eliminating a two-lane exit ramp from the Tunnel, which ran between them—thus creating a single, larger public square.
Soft Rental Market Puts Downtown Apartments within Reach of Voucher Guidelines, Almost
One perverse boon arising from the pandemic coronavirus (and the economic slowdown that it triggered) is a slight—but significant—uptick in housing affordability in Lower Manhattan. A new study from the online real estate database company, StreetEasy, finds that the inventory of apartments in Downtown’s eight residential zip codes that are eligible for New York Citys’ housing voucher program has expanded, as asking rents across all categories of apartments have dropped. This has, in a handful of cases, brought rental units within range of the maximum payments allowed under the voucher program.
The study was authored by Nancy Wu, an economist at StreetEasy, who uses data science and econometrics to publish original research on the New York City housing market. Its upbeat title, “Pandemic Rent Drops Double NYC’s Voucher-Accessible Housing,” refers to a City-wide trend, but for residents of Lower Manhattan (or people who aspire to live here), this optimism is tempered by statistics and market dynamics at the local level. To read more…
A Pooling of Interests
Would a Swim Facility that Doubles as a Floating Filtration System be a Net Plus?
Community Board 1 (CB1) is continuing a decade of grassroots advocacy by prodding the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to consider a proposal to create a floating pool in the East River, near the Brooklyn Bridge. To read more…
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
City Preservation Agency Okays Plan for New Structure on East River Waterfront
The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved a proposal by the Howard Hughes Corporation, the real estate firm that is redeveloping the South Street Seaport, and the City’s Parks Department, to create a new outdoor restaurant underneath the FDR Drive.
At a Tuesday hearing, the LPC praised the modifications to a 2019 proposal that would have placed a much larger structure (also beneath the FDR Drive) at the intersection of South and John Streets, blocking the view corridor of the East River, and eclipsing the historic tall ships docked on the waterfront. Community Board 1 (CB1) strongly opposed that version of the plan, and the LPC was guided by the Board’s judgment.
HRPT Moves Ahead with Plans to Recast Former Tow Pound as Waterfront Park
Lower Manhattan residents who use the Hudson River Greenway to traverse the waterfront will soon have another open space to savor. The Hudson River Park Trust has begun demolition and reconstruction work on Pier 76 (located at 12th Avenue in the West 30s, across from the Javits Convention Center), which will be transformed into an interim park by June. To read more…
Eyes to the Sky
April 19 – May 2, 2021
Wildly twinkling stars
At nightfall on April 6, on a visit to the countryside, I was drawn outdoors by an exceptionally clear, deep dark and starry sky. In every direction the stars were twinkling. From the southwest, flashing Sirius, the brightest of all stars seen from Earth, to pulsing Arcturus in the east, something out of the ordinary was happening. Sirius took hold of me, inspired me to concentrate my gaze to discern its white light fracturing into prismacolors. The star flickered, throwing off fragments of green, blue and red dazzle. It was like gazing at sunlight on snow or on jiggling dewdrops or a finely faceted diamond in daylight. To read more…
A chorus of New York naysayers are telling us that the City will never be the same after this pandemic. They are right—but not in the way they think. New York City is on the cusp of another “Roaring 20’s,” and I, for one, can’t wait.
One hundred years ago we were recovering from a pandemic (the Spanish Flu) and a Great War that spread fear and death. New York is facing a similar trauma. Loved ones lost are never coming back. Some of us have lost jobs, homes, or even just our favorite restaurants. A century ago, when it was all over, people were ready to let loose—and let loose they did. I believe that a similar spirit is about to start a recovery that will reshape the city in exciting ways, creating new opportunities for many.
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Frederick Law Olmsted, oil painting by John Singer Sargent, 1895, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina.
1478 – The Pazzi family attack Lorenzo de’ Medici and kill his brother Giuliano during High Mass in Florence Cathedral.
1607 – English colonists make landfall at Cape Henry, Virginia.
1721 – A massive earthquake devastates the Iranian city of Tabriz.
1803 – Thousands of meteor fragments fall from the skies of L’Aigle, France; the event convinces European scientists that meteors exist.
1865 – Union cavalry troopers corner and shoot dead John Wilkes Booth,assassin of President Lincoln, in Virginia.
1937 – Spanish Civil War: Guernica, Spain, is bombed by German Luftwaffe.
1956 – SS Ideal X, the world’s first successful container ship, leaves Port Newark, New Jersey for Houston, Texas.
1958 – Final run of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Royal Blue from Washington, D.C., to New York City after 68 years, the first U.S. passenger train to use electric locomotives.
1962 – NASA’s Ranger 4 spacecraft crashes into the Moon.
1970 – The Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization enters into force.
1986 – A nuclear reactor accident occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union (now Ukraine), creating the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
1989 – People’s Daily publishes the April 26 editorial which inflames the nascent Tiananmen Square protests
The Founders of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1891), represents the B&O’s history (left to right) beginning with its founding in 1827 to 1880. Philip E. Thomas, George Brown, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and others are gathered at left. Samuel F. B. Morse is seated at center left (with telegraph tape) and John W. Garrett is seated at right. The original painting is now at the headquarters of CSX Transportation in Jacksonville, Florida. A replica is at the B&O Railroad Museum. Painting by Francis Blackwell Mayer.
121 – Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (d. 180)
1575 – Marie de’ Medici, queen of Henry IV of France (d. 1642)
1785 – John James Audubon, French-American ornithologist and painter (d. 1851)
1822 – Frederick Law Olmsted, American journalist and designer, co-designed Central Park (d. 1903)
1894 – Rudolf Hess, Egyptian-German politician (d. 1987)
1914 – James Rouse, American real estate developer (d. 1996)
1917 – I. M. Pei, Chinese-American architect, designed the National Gallery of Art and Bank of China Tower (d. 2019)
1478 – Giuliano de’ Medici, Italian ruler (b. 1453)
1489 – Ashikaga Yoshihisa, Japanese shogun (b. 1465)
1940 – Carl Bosch, German chemist and engineer, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1874)
1970 – Gypsy Rose Lee, American actress, striptease dancer, and writer (b. 1911)
1984 – Count Basie, American pianist, composer, and bandleader (b. 1904)
1989 – Lucille Ball, American model, actress, comedian, and producer (b. 1911)
2016 – Harry Wu, Chinese human rights activist (b. 1937)