MAAP | Mapping the African American Past

Then
Now

The Harlem Community Art Center was a place where African American children from the neighborhood came to enjoy and create art. This image shows a student sculptor at the Center.

Student Sculptor at Work

The Harlem Community Art Center is no longer in existence. The Harlem Arts Alliance is now housed on the 2nd floor of the same building. This is the current view of its location.

Current View of Harlem Community Art Center

Harlem Community Art Center

The Harlem Community Art Center was created in November 1938. Its opening was attended by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who welcomed the community’s new hub for creativity.  During its brief life, the Harlem Community Art Center had a tremendous impact. Many of its students became artists who took pride in their culture and community. Paintings created by students at the Center often depicted scenes of Harlem; it was as if the students looked out a window and drew what they saw in the street.  

The Center was a place for the Harlem community to receive education in the arts for free or little charge.  It was organized by the Works Progress Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and headed by Augusta Savage.  Children and adults clamored to be part of the wide variety of art classes taught by teachers of varying ethnicities. The students were diverse as well, ranging from established Harlem painters to maladjusted children from the New York psychiatric hospitals who benefitted from the Center's creative activities.

Jacob Lawrence, the influential African American artist who depicts Harlem life in many of his paintings, attended programs at the Center and often taught classes. Lawrence also exhibited some of his work for fellow community members to view. The influence of the Center and its blending of art and the Harlem community can be seen in works like the "The Photographer,” painted by Lawrence in 1942. In this painting, Lawrence depicts a black man photographing a wealthy black family in the middle of a crowded street in Harlem. This scene demonstrated that art was no longer a hobby of the rich and famous, but an activity of the everyday man, uniting people of every race and social status.

Although the Harlem Community Art Center only lasted for 16 short months, its mission inspired a new organization called the Harlem Arts Alliance.  Located in the same building that housed the Harlem Community Art Center on 290 Lenox Avenue, the Harlem Arts Alliance continues to preserve and promote multi-ethnic and multi-cultural artists and art organizations in Harlem and surrounding communities.

This entry contributed by a Columbia University student enrolled in Art History W3897, African American Art in the 20th and 21st Centuries, taught by Professor Kellie Jones in 2008.

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Images
The Harlem Community Art Center is no longer in existence. The Harlem Arts Alliance is now housed on the 2nd floor of the same building. This is the current view of its location.
The Harlem Community Art Center was a place where African American children from the neighborhood came to enjoy and create art. This image shows a student sculptor at the Center.



Produced by CCNMTL, Chase, Teachers College, and CCI