The Educational Alliance Art School has an impressive legacy on the Lower East Side. In almost a century of existence, artists such as Peter Blume, Adolph Gottlieb, Louise Nevelson, Barnet Newman, Chaim Gross and Mark Rothko have passed through its doors on their way to illustrious careers. Now after a two-year hiatus, the art school is back in its traditional home at 197 East Broadway. Classes were moved off-site while a gut-renovation of the Educational Alliance’s flagship building was completed. The registration period for the inaugural fall semester just got underway.
Just before the holidays, we stopped by the art school to talk with Emily Aldredge, the new director. Previously, she served as founding director of Kent State University’s College of the Arts’ NYC Studio. Among other positions, Aldredge also worked as an administrator for Art Resources in Teaching, a program affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago. At the Educational Alliance, she’s responsible for taking the historic art program into the future, reshaping it for a changing community.
The art school has been moved from its longtime fifth floor perch to a space on the lower level of the renovated building. It’s the final piece of the Manny Cantor Center, a $55 million community facility that’s been retooled to serve a broader cross-section of an economically and culturally diverse neighborhood.
The new facility features modern painting and drawing studios, a ceramic/sculpture studio, a multi-disciplinary studio and two gallery spaces. In the months leading up to the relaunch, Aldredge said, a lot of effort has gone into designing a curriculum that expands on previous offerings and reflects the needs and wishes of art students. “We’re striving,” she explained, “to provide the best quality instruction with teachers that are passionate and a professional art making environment that is also welcoming and inviting and that really supports students’ ideas and their creative drive.”
In the past, courses on stone carving, the graphic novel, ceramic jewelry and Chinese ink painting have all been popular. They’re all making a comeback in the new curriculum, but Aldredge is planning new offerings, as well. “We are going to be constantly evolving,” she said. “We see ourselves as a generative space… (that presents) new ideas and that is as innovative as possible.” In the spring, for example, a whole course on ceramic jewelry design is envisioned in which students will have the opportunity to create their own jewelry collections. Reduced fee classes are being offered. There’s a plan in the works to add dual-language classes. And next year, the Educational Alliance will restart its young artist program.
In 2011, controversy swirled around the art school after details of the renovation plan became known. Aldredge said she’s very much aware how strongly many students felt about the old fifth floor studio space. At the same time, she believes the new facility has a lot to offer, since it’s new and modern and has a working elevator (that was a recurring problem prior to renovation).
“We’re starting from scratch,” said Aldredge, “and I think there’s something really nice about that. It’s a blank canvas. It’s my hope that the students who were studying here on the fifth floor come back and are a part of making (it) a place that has fantastic energy and has a camaraderie.” That exists, she argued, “because of the people and the instructors and it’s not necessarily about the space.”
In the past several months, the art school has been reaching out to other institutions (such as the New Museum) as well as some of the neighborhood’s many art galleries. Aldredge explained, “We want to be an anchor in the arts community, not only for our art students but also for our artists in the community.” The art school, she said, should be “a place for them to possibly exhibit or to hold events, lectures, panel discussions. We want to be more than an art school. We want to be a hub.”
Registration is open until 5 p.m. Jan. 16. Discounts are available for students who sign up before the end of the day tomorrow. Click here to have a look at the full course schedule.