News About the High School of Art & Design

From a Rude Bump, a Lift for a School
From the NEW YORK TIMES, December 13, 2000
By Anemona Hartocollis

About seven years ago, Sara Koffman was walking east on 57th Street toward her apartment as school was letting out. As she recalls it, a teenage boy, a student at the High School of Art and Design, pushed her to the ground. And there began one of the city's odder tales of educational philanthropy.
000Despite an impressive roster of alumni from an earlier era, men like Calvin Klein, Tony Bennett and Harvey Fierstein, the school had fallen on hard times. Its neighbors on Sutton Place, one of New York's toniest addresses, sent their children to private schools. The students at Art and Design, many of whom traveled long distances from humbler parts of the city, and their teachers felt unwelcome.
000"The first boy turned to me and smirked," Mrs. Koffman said the other day as she recalled the encounter. "I felt so violated."
000But instead of revenge, Mrs. Koffman, a former schoolteacher and community volunteer, sought to make something positive out of the attack, and in 1995 the Friends of Art and Design was born. Mrs. Koffman and her friends have become the school's biggest benefactors.
000"I kept thinking that if he knew me, he wouldn't have done this," she said.
000As much as the money it has raised, FAD, as it is called, has made a difference by starting to break down the suspicion that has long reigned between the school and its neighbors. On Election Day, when Art and Design was a polling place, a group of students organized by FAD served refreshments to voters, and persuaded 2,500 of the 8,000 who voted for a presidential candidate to vote again, this time in a student art contest.
000Some of the students, Mrs. Koffman said, tears in her eyes, helped elderly voters to the booths.
000As the Board of Education tries to institutionalize and control corporate giving to the public schools, Mrs. Koffman's story shows how some of the most productive relationships can happen by accident.
000"I had been injured a few months before, and I was walking with difficulty," she said, retelling the story, her favorite dinner-time anecdote, in her apartment, with views of the Queensboro Bridge, the Chrysler Building and her collection of American crafts.
000School had let out and Mrs. Koffman made eye contact with a passing teenager, something a savvy New Yorker might not have done, but Mrs. Koffman, as she puts it, "raised three children in the 60's and 70's."
000"These kids looked fine to me," she said. The boy shoved his friend, who fell into Mrs. Koffman, who went down.
000As she lay sprawled on the sidewalk, other students swarmed past her, averting their eyes. "Finally, a gentleman helped me up and said: `It's the new game in town. All the kids are knocking over the old people."
000Mrs. Koffman, who is now in her late 60's, was not sure what had infuriated her more, being knocked to the ground and ignored, or being identified as an old person.
000She seethed for days, repeating the story to her family, her friends and people she knew at the health club. She tried to confront the principal of Art and Design, but a protective secretary refused to let her in and suggested that if the incident had been so terrible, she should file a police report. Mrs. Koffman did. But Mrs. Koffman could not remember what the boys looked like and nothing ever came of the report, she said.
000But by networking through the health club to the Sutton Area Community Organization to Community Board 6 she finally penetrated the school. A youth worker for Community Board 6 brought the principal, Diana Cagle, to Mrs. Koffman's apartment, where the idea of a group to benefit the school was hatched.
000In the beginning, FAD arranged for neighborhood residents to tutor students and raised small amounts of money. Last spring Mrs. Koffman and her husband, Richard, a retired investor, invited friends to the group's first major fund-raiser. The event yielded $100,000, not a lot by corporate standards, but more than the families whose children attend the school could raise on their own.
000The organization has also set up a tutoring room, and is bringing in investment representatives from a nearby Chase Manhattan bank branch to help students prepare for the Regents examination in mathematics, now a graduation requirement. Mrs. Koffman wants to use the $100,000 to begin giving Art and Design a badly needed renovation. Though it is only 40 years old, its blue-tiled walls, flimsy drop ceilings and stingy fluorescent lighting make it look like a decaying bathhouse.
000Given that few, if any, children from the neighborhood attend Art and Design, said Hope Eisman, the acting principal, "this community's interest is amazing."
000Art and Design, once known as the School of Industrial Art, moved to East 57th Street in 1960, according to Yvonne Fitzner, a graphic designer who graduated that year. From the beginning, Ms. Fitzner said, it was resented by the neighborhood, which would have preferred a more glamorous institution.
000Still, Art and Design produced many graduates who later became famous in the arts, entertainment and advertising worlds, from Jerry Della Femina to Art Spiegelman and Steven Meisel, Ms. Fitzner said.
000Its luster faded during the fiscal crisis of the 1970's, along with that of many other city schools. Ms. Eisman, appointed last fall, is trying to restore some of the school's prestige by raising academic standards. The other day, she rounded up students who did not get to class on time, bringing them into her office for a lecture warning that they could be returned to their neighborhood high schools. The school admits students based on portfolios and a two-hour drawing test that requires, among other exercises, a sketch of a live model, an illustration with text for an advertisement, a fantasy scene, and for architecture students, a line drawing.
000Ms. Eisman, whose husband, Douglas, graduated from Art and Design in 1968, said she also would like to cut down the constant use of the building by outside groups, with no remuneration to the school, that often leave furniture in disarray and litter on the floors. Some, like Mario Cuomo's basketball team and the Learning Annex, with its courses on reading Tarot cards and power interviewing, use it more respectfully than others, she said.
000In the advertising class of Mike Cheverino (class of 1971) the other day, future Della Feminas worked on accounts for clients like Estee Lauder, the New York Lung Association and Buttercup Bake Shop on Second Avenue ("Life is uncertain . . . eat desserts first!"), which pay a modest fee.
000Among them was Ryan Gil, who commutes from Corona, Queens. His mother is a homemaker, his father a construction worker in, Mr. Gil says proudly, Local 731. Mr. Gil was admitted to Art and Design on the strength of his doodles. Now he is the advertising class chief executive officer, chosen because he once ran his own dog-walking business. "It was a little bit childish," he said. "But I was an entrepreneur."

Back to the top

Back to School News Index