Tag Archives: Neighborhood Studios

A Special Neighborhood Studios Night

For over 40 years, Neighborhood Studios has provided arts education to Bridgeport students. The non-profit transforms the lives of 1,600 youngsters through after-school art, music, theater and dance classes. There’s also a flourishing summer camp.

For many years too, Neighborhood Studios has enjoyed a close relationship with Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater. Longtime NS board member (and Westporter) Harold Levine was also chair of the Ailey company. They’re a frequent headliner at NS’ annual fundraiser.

They’ll be there again on April 28, at Fairfield University’s Quick Center.

Grace Bergonzi

But this year there’s a special attraction. Grace Bergonzi — a 2013 Staples High School graduate, now dancing with the prestigious Ailey II company — will also be there, on stage.

The event has another Westport connection. Jeffrey and Laurie Gross are being honored that night for their contributions to Neighborhood Studios.

The couple got involved through their daughter Margaret, a dancer. In 1998 Laurie encouraged her to enroll in the first-ever Ailey camp at the University of Bridgeport. Surrounded by people different from those she knew in Westport — but also passionate about dance — Margaret grew immensely.

Laurie stayed involved, eventually serving as Neighborhood Studios’ chair.

“Their mission is so compelling,” she says. “These kids who do music, dance, theater and arts are every bit as talented as kids from the suburbs. They just need an opportunity like this.”

Jeff and Laurie Gross

The Grosses are involved in many activities. She’s worked with Holocaust committees, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, United Way, and Action for Bridgeport Community Development.

He’s volunteered for the Jewish Federation of Eastern Fairfield County, Congregation Beth El, and Connecticut Multiple Sclerosis Society.

But Neighborhood Studios is particularly close to their hearts. On April 28, help the Grosses — and Grace Bergonzi — celebrate Westporters and Bridgeporters. They’re 2 very different neighborhoods, united by the arts.

(The Ailey II gala is Sunday, April 28 at 5:30 p.m. Click here for tickets. Click here for more information on Neighborhood Studios.)

SlamJam Helps Teens Be Kind, Fight Bullies

For a few months now, the Westport Arts Center’s “MORE Than Words” exhibit has highlighted the importance of courage, resilience and empowerment in the face of bullying.

It’s emboldened a variety of voices to speak out about the positive effects of empathy and kindness, and the negative results of exclusion.

No one knows that subject better than teenagers. On January 29, their voices will be heard — loud and clear.

SlamJam (5 p.m., Westport Country Playhouse) is an evening of performances by Fairfield County teens. They’ll express how they feel about their stressful social world, and promote a kinder, more inclusive community.

Songs, spoken word, rap, dance, music and film are some of the performance art genres on tap. Performers will come from Westport and area towns — including students from Bridgeport’s All-Star Project and Neighborhood Studios.

The emcee is Ceez Liive. The very cool poetry slam-winning artist from the Bronx performed at Staples a few years ago to great acclaim. Check her out below:

The event is produced by SKATEmovement. The acronym stands for Spreading Kindness and Teaching Empathy — an anti-bullying organization that teaches teens to be role models for younger children. All proceeds go to the Southern Connecticut branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

These are our teenagers. They have plenty to say.

And very creative, powerful ways of saying it.

(SlamJam is appropriate for middle schoolers and up. Tickets are $40 for adults, $20 for students and seniors. Click here to order. For $150 VIP seating, including pre- and post-show events, call 203-227-4177.)


Harold Levine: Westporters Must Help Bridgeport

Harold Levine emailed me recently. He’s 93 years old. But the famed  advertising executive — who is also chairman emeritus of Neighborhood Studios, an after-school, weekend and summer music, arts and dance program for Bridgeport students –is as passionate as ever.

Frustrated, too. The longtime Westporter writes:

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?

Neighborhood Studios logoWhy 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.

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

A dance ensemble class rehearses at Neighborhood Studios. (Photo by Autumn Driscoll/CT Post)

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.

(To donate to Neighborhood Studios, click here.)

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Harold Levine asks Westporters to help their neighbors.

Neighbors Help Neighborhood Studios

For a long time, Neighborhood Studios needed a good documentary film, to show to prospective donors and sponsors.

The weekend and summer music and arts program serves 1600 Bridgeport youngsters each year. It’s very effective — but low-key, and chronically underfunded. There was no way to find the thousands of dollars a film production would charge.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

A few months ago, Westporter Harold Levine — the organization’s 93-year-old chairman emeritus, still very active after a long career as a storied ad agency owner — approached a former colleague.

Tony Degregorio is a noted adman himself — and a Westporter. He agreed to be creative supervisor of the film.

Levine then asked Jim Honeycutt, director of Staples High School’s Media Lab, for help finding students to collaborate. Senior Arin Meyer volunteered to shoot the film. Levine calls her “extraordinarily talented.”

Junior Daniel Pauker joined as production assistant.

Levine’s next call was to longtime friend Doris Jacoby. For decades, her Jacoby Storm company has produced documentaries for major corporations and non-profit clients. She too eagerly signed on.

Neighborhood Studios logoThe result — a volunteer effort by talented Westporters, to help boys and girls in nearby Bridgeport — premieres on Sunday, March 15 (7 p.m.) at the Westport Country Playhouse. The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will perform.

They’re not from Westport. But like Harold Levine, Tony Degregorio, Arin Meyer, Daniel Pauker and Doris Jacoby, they’re eager to help Neighborhood Schools — our Bridgeport neighbors just a few miles away.

(Tickets to the Neighborhood Studios gala are available here.)

Harold Levine’s Neighborhood Studios

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.

Harold Levine

Harold Levine

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.

Neighborhood Studios logoThe 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 lauriegross52@gmail.com, or call 203-454-4238. For more information, click here.)