In 2006 Neil Waldman followed a dream - to return to the Bronx neighborhoods of his youth, and create a free art school there. The school's goal would be to work with young Bronx artists on the development of their portfolios, so they could go to art college.
After assembling a team of noted illustrators, designers, and art educators, the doors of the Fred Dolan Art Academy opened that September. In the Academy's first year, Chris Lopez, the Academy's only senior, was accepted at five colleges, and chose to study architecture at the NYC Institute of Technology. A year later, all five of the Academy's seniors attained college scholarships. Over the next few years, the Academy's graduates were accepted at some of the most prestigious colleges in the country, choosing majors in a wide variety of subjects - from drawing and painting, to art education, computer graphics, creative writing, and finance. Word began spreading about the free Saturday art school, where every graduate went on to college with a scholarship. Teachers, principals, and parents from around the Bronx started phoning, asking if a special boy or girl might be accepted . . . and our answer was always, "Yes!"
But then, on a cold October morning in 2012, a small group of sixth-graders appeared at the Academy's doors. The security guard called, and Neil Waldman made his way to the front desk, where the youngsters stood waiting. He led them into an empty classroom, and one of them started telling their story. "Art is what we love most," he began. "Actually, we've all been drawing and painting since kindergarten. We heard about your academy from one of our friends, and that's why we're here . . . to sign up."
Neil looked into their eyes, and a tremor passed through his body.
"I'm real sorry guys," he told them. "Unfortunately, all of our classes are full.
We don't have room for any more students."
As if on cue, the youngsters all looked away.
After gathering his thoughts, Neil explained that there was usually a small number of students who dropped out over the course of a school year.
"As soon as that happens," he assured them, "We'll call you."
What Neil didn't tell them was that the Academy didn't have the money to hire another teacher, or purchase the art supplies, lunches, and subway passes they'd need.
Neil stood at the doorway and watched as the youngsters lumbered out of the building, and slowly made their way down the street.
The look in their eyes has remained within him - emblazoned forever in his memory. "Oh, those kids," Neil told the members of the faculty. "Those amazing wonderful kids. I just did something I never imagined doing. For the first time in my life, I turned a young artist away."
As a result of that experience, we've come up with a plan . . . and that's what this website is all about.
watercolor by Cheyenne Julien, a Dolan Academy graduate, now studying at Rhode Island School of Design with a scholarship.