Last summer, KyMoy Phillip arrived at Lincoln Center on a hot and humid morning. His destination was Arts Audition Boot Camp, where he would learn to prepare for a dance audition, the first step toward realizing his dream of attending a specialized arts-focused high school.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of rising eighth graders apply to New York City’s specialized high schools, from engineering and math to the arts. KyMoy Phillip is one of thousands of students from across the city who hope to attend these special focus schools, such as LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, or the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music. These aspiring artists have raw talent, but too few of them have access to sufficient background information or preparation materials for the required audition to these schools. They may not know what to expect, what music, theater, or dance excerpt to perform, or what to present in a visual art portfolio. That’s where Lincoln Center comes in.
In the summer of 2014, Lincoln Center and the New York City Department of Education launched the first-ever Arts Audition Boot Camp, a two-week program for students from underserved schools or communities across New York City aimed at teaching them the basics to prepare for specialized high school auditions. The intensive summertime session is taught by certified arts teachers alongside teaching artists from Lincoln Center’s resident organizations as well as Carnegie Hall and Studio in a School, with training for a variety of disciplines, including instrumental or vocal music, dance, theater, and visual art. In just four years, the program has become a game-changer for students from the city’s underserved areas, leveling the playing field without lowering the bar.
“Lincoln Center was founded on the principle that the arts should be a civil right, and therefore we have a responsibility to the city and its public-school system,” says Russell Granet, Lincoln Center’s acting president and, previously, executive vice president of Lincoln Center Education. “Our commitment to having a positive impact on society and contributing to the well-being of communities across New York City is made evident by the Arts Audition Boot Camp and our partnership with the Department of Education.”
New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza adds: “Arts Audition Boot Camp is the perfect symphony of two areas I am extremely passionate about: equity and the arts. As a musician and an educator, I understand how life changing access to arts classes can be, and I am thrilled to be partnering with Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Studio in a School. Together, we are expanding opportunities, resources, and training for more students to work toward their goal of receiving a rigorous and enriching arts education at public schools across the city.”
In Boot Camp’s inaugural summer, four years ago, 98 students participated, and 90 percent were offered the opportunity to attend their top choice high school. The overwhelmingly positive numbers demonstrated its impact and success to both Lincoln Center and the Department of Education. As a result, the program immediately expanded in scale. In each of the following summers, it has welcomed a steady increase of students, with a consistently high percentage (more than 95 percent) gaining entrance to their top choice school. Last summer, when KyMoy Phillip participated, the program welcomed 220 students. And this summer, it saw more than 250 students participate, the largest group to date, and an increase of more than 200 percent since its first iteration five years ago.
“It’s a testament to the quality of the program that as we have grown year over year, the outcomes have not diminished,” says Granet.
While the immediate focus is aimed at training for the audition process for a specific short-term goal, the program also fosters important longer-term benefits. Lincoln Center Education has long supported the benefits of creativity and imaginative thinking, but also dedication, grit, and perseverance, qualities that help artists—and other professionals—achieve success. The teachers and teaching artists leading each summer’s Boot Camp sessions introduce and encourage the development, practice, and application of these vital skills for the audition and beyond. Whether or not the students pursue careers in the arts, the program will have fostered important skills transferrable to school, or later in life in the professional world.
Adds Alex Sarian, acting executive director of Lincoln Center Education: “By helping to democratize access to highly competitive high schools, we are demonstrating that arts education can have a lasting impact on a young person’s life.”
This fall, approximately 90 students will be entering their senior year at specialized arts-focused high schools, thanks to their own talent and hard work, and to the partnership of Lincoln Center and the Department of Education. The program offered them important tools to get in the door, and they’ve done all the rest. Through this joint initiative, students are prepared to explore new ideas, take on challenges, and discover their own bright futures.
Eric M. Gewirtz specializes in public relations, communications, and marketing of the performing arts.