Harold Levine — a giant on the local philanthropic scene — died peacefully at home yesterday. He was 95.
Professionally, he’s known as the co-founder — with Chet Huntley — of the Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver ad agency. Highly regarded for its creativity, the firm was in the forefront of providing career opportunities for women and minorities. In 1996, Levine received a diversity achievement award from the American Advertising Federation.
Levine was also a lifelong champion of education and the arts.
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, as chair of the Freeport (New York) Board of Education, he steered that school system during a period of racial and political unrest. He later served as chair of the board of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation.
After moving to Westport, he committed himself to providing educational and arts opportunities to Bridgeport children.
As chair of Neighborhood Studios, he helped a small arts program grow into a large, thriving organization that now provides a broad array of music, fine art and dance education.
He often — and successfully — sought financial and other support from Westport, to benefit Bridgeport youngsters.
Levine is survived by his children, Rita and Jay; 4 grandchildren, and a great-grandson. He was predeceased by his wife Sue and brother Josh.
A funeral is set for Monday (February 13, 10:30 a.m.) at Temple Israel. Memorial contributions may be made to Neighborhood Studios, 391 East Washington Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06608.
In 2015, Harold Levine asked me to spread the good word about Neighborhood Studios. I was happy to oblige. At 93, he wrote the following plea:
I just received a troubling phone call. Our executive director projects that by the end of our fiscal year on August 30th, we will be over $80,000 in debt.
We are seriously understaffed. So why the deficit?
Why can’t we get enough money to provide arts experiences to over 1,500 children? Is it because they are poor? Is it because they don’t live in our community? Is it because they are black and Hispanic?
I recently invited a Westporter to join me on a visit to our programs in action. I was told, “Oh, I don’t go to Bridgeport.”
Neighborhood Studios was founded over 35 years ago by Pat Hart, a young woman who became blind at 28. She was committed to teaching art and music to blind and other handicapped children. Over the years the organization has grown to serve all Bridgeport children.
For example, for private piano lessons we ask parents to pay $3 per sessions. Many tell us they cannot afford even that little. Are we to turn that child away? Of course not. That’s one reason we end the year with a deficit.
For the past 15 years we have sponsored Ailey Camp, a 6-week summer program in cooperation with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Bridgeport is one of only 7 such camps around the country.
Besides a great dance program, youngsters are also trained in speech, writing, and feeling good about themselves. Many campers return as interns and instructors.
This is a program that everyone in Fairfield County should be proud to support. The campers (and their parents) are carefully interviewed. Each family pays only $25 for the entire summer — yet each camper costs Neighborhood Studios over $1,000.
We are looking for patrons of the arts. I was once told that if Neighborhood Studios was headquartered in Westport, we would be loaded with money.
But we’re not. We are in Bridgeport, serving a community very much in need. So how about saying to the children of Bridgeport: “We do care about you.”
Our programs work. We are successful in getting a high percentage of our children to go on to college. We must continue to serve the children of our neighboring community, Bridgeport.