The Boston Arts Academy held an event hosted by Mayor Walsh on April 4 to officially launch its “Building Our Future” campaign, which hopes to raise $30 million in five years to support the public arts high school. At the event, two gifts totaling $1 million, one from the Lewis family and one from an anonymous donor, were announced. The gifts will support fitness, health, and wellness at the school, with the $500,000 Lewis family gift being recognized by naming the new fitness center after Donna Harris-Lewis’ late husband, Dr. Reginald “Reggie” Lewis of the Boston Celtics. The anonymous gift of $500,000 will support the school’s Health and Wellness Program.
The Boston Arts Academy broke ground on its brand new, state-of-the-art facility in September of last year, which will replace the 100 year old postal warehouse that previously served as the school building. The new school will open in September of 2021.
“After more than two decades, the Boston Arts Academy remains a vibrant haven for learning and artistic expression for almost 470 diverse and talented students,” said Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College and chair of the BAA Foundation Board. He explained the importance of arts and arts education in the City of Boston: “On a per capita basis, this city has more arts and culture than any other city in the country and 18 million people attend Greater Boston arts and culture events each year, which is enough to sell out Fenway Park 488 times,” Pelton said.
Mayor Walsh praised the BAA Foundation Board and thanked them for all the work they do to support the arts. Walsh said that it is important for students to have choices for where they want to go to school. He told a story of a student who transferred to BAA from Boston Latin School because it was not a good fit for her—“it’s about creating an opportunity for our young people to experience and learn what they want to learn and experience,” Walsh said. “That’s what this school’s about.”
Walsh said that a recent federal study found that arts and culture contributes $800 billion each year to the United States economy—more than agriculture, tourism, and construction, he said.
Lee Michael Kennedy of Lee Kennedy, Co., the construction company for the project, gave a construction update at the event. “This is first class, state-of-the-art stuff,” Kennedy said. “You’ve seen it come down. It came down quick. Now it’s going to look like we’re not doing a whole bunch,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Kennedy said that there are 70 existing concrete piles that have to be removed, which he said was “slow work.” He said they will then have to install new piles and remove dirt. “So it will look like six months of us just driving equipment around the site,” Kennedy said.
He said that so far, they are getting along with the neighbors, which he said is a big part of their job. “We want to remain friends.” He thanked the project architects, Perkins Eastman and Wilson Butler, for their “beautiful design work.”
“Come the summer of 2021, we will deliver this building, fully commissioned, highest quality humanly possible,” Kennedy said.
“When I visited the school I saw the magic,” said Donna Harris-Lewis, local philanthropist, donor, and member of the “Building Our Future” Campaign Cabinet. “I said, how special is this? And the only thing I could think of was, we have this here in Boston? So guess what? We have to show the world that we can do this…that we can have the number one high school for performing and visual arts.”
Sean Curran, BAA Foundation Board Member, said that BAA headmaster Anne Clark has said that “the city we have is a wonderful city and talent is distributed equally throughout the city, but opportunity is not,” Curran said. “We seek to close that gap permanently…we seek to deliver onto our students in their city the finest…purpose-built arts high school in the entire country.”
Headmaster Anne Clark told the Sun that the new school building is “a dream come true.”
“We’ve waited a very long time for this moment to arrive,” Clark said. “…we were in the old postal warehouse for 20 years and were doing great work there and we have amazing students and amazing teachers but for them to have a purpose-built arts facility will change everything.
Clark expressed her gratitude for the $1 million donation towards health and wellness at the new building, as there was previously no fitness center at the old school. “We didn’t even have a gym, which is a challenge because as a public school, physical education is a state requirement.” She said that though the dancers were getting physical activity, the other students ran up and down stairs and did calisthenics in an assembly hall. Physical education “is an important part of health and wellness in any young person, but especially a young artist,” she said.
Clark said she was “very grateful” to the Massachusetts School Building Authority and the City of Boston for providing the building. “But facilities don’t stay new forever,” she said, “and we also need to make sure that we have the teachers and the equipment and the programming to make amazing things happen in the building—that’s what this is all about.”