Harold Levine enjoyed a long, fulfilling career as head of the Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver ad agency. (Yes, “Huntley” is Chet — the longtime NBC newscaster.)
He sold the company to Grey Advertising, then spent the first part of retirement helping Ukraine develop an ad industry (after the Soviet Union disintegrated). At 91 years old, Levine is still working. This month he traveled to Vienna, where his Kiev-based agency just opened a new office.
Levine’s other passion lies closer to Westport, his home for the past 35 years. He’s chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, which provides after-school, weekend and summer music and arts programs to 1600 Bridgeport students a year.
It’s been a life-changer for countless youngsters. But just a few miles from Connecticut’s largest city, few Westporters have any idea it exists.
Levine’s long connection began with his late wife Sue. After meeting Pat Hart, a blind arts educator, she committed herself to bringing art and music to blind and handicapped Bridgeport youth.
At the time, Levine was board chairman of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. When he saw that organization using dance to help ease racial tensions in Kansas City, a light bulb lit up.
Levine had always been interested in education — before moving here, he served on the Freeport, Long Island school board — and with Sue, he helped introduce the Alvin Ailey Camp to Bridgeport.
The camp — which ended earlier this month — is just one component of Neighborhood Studios. The hugely successful program has produced professional musicians and artists, and sent graduates on to college at a far higher rate than the Bridgeport norm. One, for example, is currently at Berklee College of Music; another is a pre-med and dance major at Howard University.
“These are our neighbors, but they don’t get an arts experience,” Levine notes. “Those of us in Westport have a responsibility to them.”
Earlier this summer Steffi Friedman — a Westport sculptor who teaches in the program — took nearly a dozen students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. None had ever been to New York City, or a museum.
Levine has hoped that Westport would embrace Neighborhood Studios — perhaps even partner with it. He’d like to tap into our music, dance, theater and arts talents, as instructors. But he’s found that many here fear Bridgeport. Folks will write a check — but won’t go there.
He’s even heard people say they moved to Westport to get away from places like Bridgeport.
“These are good, talented kids,” Levine says. “They just need someone to put an arm around them.”
Laurie Gross is one who has. The current chair of Neighborhood Studios, she got involved more than a decade ago when her daughter — a dancer — volunteered at the Ailey Camp. It changed her life — and Laurie’s too.
Meanwhile, Levine promotes the program he is so proud of. And — with the enthusiasm and energy of a man half his 91 years — he urges other Westporters to do the same.
(Interested in teaching, participating, contributing or otherwise helping Neighborhood Studios? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-454-4238. For more information, click here.)