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Church Street School for Music and Art celebrates the return of Tribeca

Adding more color to the plywood mural. (Two hands are better than one.)
Photo by Tequila Minsky

While the streets steamed with unseasonably brutal weather on Sunday, June 6, the live blues wafting in and around White Street drew crowds closer.  Abby Levine on drums and Stacy Werdin on keyboard were hot, hot, hot! 

White Street’s closure provided plenty of space for parents, children, neighbors, musicians and artists to get inspired. The Happening! of the Church Street School for Music and Art (CSSMA) was definitely happening! 

Located in the former The Flea Theater, CSSMA celebrated the rebirth of Tribeca with an afternoon in the street devoted to the arts— the core of this neighborhood institution.

Unfazed by the heat, children engaged in watercolors spraying, mixed media weaving, botanical printing, and hula hooping among the afternoon’s activities with a backdrop of performed live music.

Amir Diop, a member of Soho Art Renaissance Factory, a group of artists who met a year ago while painting the plywood on storefront windows in Soho, oversaw children painting a mural-type work of art on a huge sheet of plywood. 

“I’m all about the community,” he said, while prepping the wood under the noon sweltering sun. Later that afternoon, children clamored to contribute to the group artistic endeavor. 

First located 31 years ago on Church Street, hence the name, the school later moved to Warren St., and in 2018 to White Street, expanding with changes in the neighborhood.   Surviving 9-11, Sandy, and the pandemic, it offers programming in music and the arts for children from 16 months through senior high schoolers and up. In a typical year, 1000 different students might be availing themselves to its programs.

“During the pandemic, all classes were virtual,” reports Associate Director Betsy Kerlin. Eighty percent of their students continued on Zoom.  During last summer, their seasonal enrollment was higher than usual since even from afar students could continue their classes.  

Two mothers were among the many braving the heat for the fun afternoon of the Happening! 

Over a decade and half ago, Lisa DeArmas’s two sons started at 18 months with the Mommy & Me class and continued with singing, arts, and instrument lessons.  Guitar-playing Grateful Dead fan, Ryan is now 16, while piano-playing Dylan, age 14 is a Billy Joel fan.  Stacey Lee’s son Jeremy studied drumming from age 6-15 and was in the CSSMA band. 

Kerlin underscores how, geared toward all ages, “We focus on helping every child in finding their creative voice.” Many former students have become artists and musicians and a handful has become teaching artists in their creative arts programs. 

Committed to high-quality art and music programs for diverse students of all backgrounds, this lower Manhattan nonprofit community arts school  will offer all sorts of classes to children during the summer—this year in person,  as well as its school-year programming. 

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