Girls drawing fashion designs next to HSA logo
Girls drawing fashion designs next to HSA logo
Community, Learning 3 minute read

Harlem School of the Arts empowers youth to find and develop the artist within themselves

By American Girl Aug. 15, 2022

American Girl’s new 1920s historical character, Claudie Wells™, is inspired by the talented writers, painters, musicians, and singers in her vibrant Harlem community to find her own voice as a storyteller. It’s a gift that helps her discover more about her own family’s history and gain a better understanding of why Harlem—a place of hope, new beginnings, and artistic joy—has become home to so many Black people searching for freedom.

To celebrate Claudie’s Harlem Renaissance story and help foster creative expression in today’s youth, American Girl has partnered with Harlem School of the Arts (HSA), the renowned cultural center that emphasizes the importance of access and the transformative power of the arts in the lives of young people.

We talked with W. Lee Hogans, Harlem School of the Arts’ Chief Education Officer, about its mission and the power in pursuing your artistic passions.

What is Harlem School of the Arts?

Harlem School of the Arts is a cultural arts center that enriches the lives of young people and their families in Harlem and the Greater New York City area by providing unrivaled on-site arts instruction and vital outreach partnerships with New York City schools; presenting quality community performances and programs attracting diverse audiences to our dynamic cultural arts facility; and providing essential workspace for aspiring artists. Through these activities, HSA connects more than 5,000 students each year to the rich cultural traditions, diversity, and talent of Harlem.

What is HSA’s mission?

HSA empowers youth to reach their full potential in the arts, education, and life through interdisciplinary arts training that celebrates the rich complexity of their community. We offer students the freedom to find and develop the artist, student, and citizen within themselves in an environment that teaches discipline, stimulates creativity, builds self-confidence, and adds a dimension of beauty to their lives, empowering them to become the creative thinkers and innovative leaders of tomorrow.

How did HSA get its start?

Harlem School of the Arts was founded in 1964 by internationally acclaimed concert soprano Dorothy Maynor. She was inspired by the belief that world-class training in the arts stimulates the child, strengthens the family, and gives pride of ownership to the community. She opened Harlem School of the Arts with 20 piano students in the basement of St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem.

In May 1979, HSA moved to its state-of-the-art, 37,000 square foot, award-winning facility in historic Hamilton Heights, where it became one of the neighborhood’s pioneering cultural institutions and a linchpin of Harlem’s renewal. In 2013, the facility was renamed Harlem School of the Arts at the Herb Alpert Center, in recognition of an extraordinary gift from acclaimed trumpeter Herb Alpert, who said his life changed the day his elementary school teacher put a trumpet in his hands.

Over the past 58 years, HSA has blossomed into an extraordinary cultural institution that has served more than 60,000 students, many of whom directly credit Harlem School of the Arts with having changed their lives.

What is the HSA Prep Program?

HSA Prep is a pre-professional scholarship program providing students ages 1218 with advanced-level arts training in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts. In addition to a full scholarship to attend HSA, prep students receive individual mentoring, high school/college application support, and opportunities to engage with professional artists of the highest caliber.

What do you hope for the future of HSA?

HSA founder Dorothy Maynor believed in the transformative power of arts education. Our hope is that HSA continues to be a place where young people, like Claudie, are empowered through their art and develop valuable life skills that enrich whatever path they choose.

How can people learn more about HSA?

They can learn more by visiting our website at

American Girl has donated $50,000 to support Harlem School of the Art’s HSA Prep program, a pre-professional scholarship program providing students ages 12-18 with advanced level arts training in music, dance, theater, and visual arts. *Customer donations can be made online using the links below, by calling toll free at 1-800-845-0005, and at American Girl stores nationwide.

$1 donation | $5 donation | $10 donation

Explore Claudie's product world and learn more about her story with Meet Claudie by Brit Bennett. Illustrations by Laura Freeman.

©2024 American Girl. American Girl and associated trademarks are owned by American Girl, LLC.

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