Unleashing Creativity, The Legacy of the Harlem Community Art Center, 1937 – 1942

August 15, 2023


In the tapestry of Harlem’s rich history, a vibrant thread emerges in the form of the Harlem Community Art Center, a haven of creativity born in November 1938.

Its inauguration was graced by none other than former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who hailed this new beacon of artistic expression. In its brief existence, the center-left an indelible mark, nurturing budding talents that would ripple through culture and community.

… the essence of Harlem itself …

The impact was profound. As students entered the center’s doors, they stepped into a world where their artistic voices were nurtured. The paintings that emerged from these creative minds captured the essence of Harlem itself – a glimpse of life through their windows onto the street. Scenes of Harlem’s bustling streets were etched onto canvases, a testament to the intimate connection between artist and community.

More than just an art haven, the center was a free or affordable academy of creativity for Harlem’s denizens. Conceived under the auspices of President Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s Works Progress Administration and led by the visionary Augusta Savage, the center buzzed with a diverse tapestry of students and teachers, an embodiment of unity through art. It became a gathering place where established Harlem artists shared brushes with maladjusted children from psychiatric hospitals, all seeking solace and expression within its walls.

Among these hallowed halls, a young Jacob Lawrence, an influential African American artist, found his canvas and community. The lines between teacher and student blurred as he not only imbibed knowledge but also imparted it, exhibiting his work for the very community that had birthed him. Lawrence’s “The Photographer,” an iconic piece from 1942, encapsulated the center’s ethos, depicting a candid moment of art bridging social divides, capturing the pulse of everyday life.

… the torch of unity through art …

While the center’s lifespan was fleeting, lasting just 16 months, its legacy endured. From its embers rose the Harlem Arts Alliance, a testament to the seeds it had sown. Nestled in the very building that once housed the center, this alliance stood as a guardian of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural artistry. It carried forth the torch of unity through art, breathing life into Harlem and its surrounding tapestry of communities.

This chapter of history was penned by a gifted Columbia University student, a disciple of Professor Kellie Jones, in the year 2008. Through their words, the spirit of the Harlem Community Art Center lives on, an ode to a legacy that transcends time.

Harlem World Magazine

Harlem World Magazine (HWM) helps our readers live their best life and style in Harlem. With an unwavering commitment to excellence, we aim to showcase Harlem’s unique voices, untold stories, and extraordinary talents. www.harlemworldmagazine.com

Photo credit: 1-2) Students at the Harlem Community Art Center.

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