By MELANIE WEST
Famed artist LeRoy Neiman drew his first prize-winning picture more than 80 years ago. As a child, he says, drawing was a passive classroom activity, and not something teachers or parents paid much attention.
“There was no glory,” says Mr. Neiman, now 90. “Nobody cared if you were a genius.”
But Mr. Neiman is determined to inspire genius in a generation of new artists. A few years ago, Mr. Neiman gave $1 million to Arts Horizons, a nonprofit arts education organization, to establish the LeRoy Neiman Art Center in central Harlem. He supports the organization annually and recently gave $150,000 to the organization to further the programming and provide scholarships to students at the center.
Arts Horizons, which is based in Englewood, N.J., primarily works to bring art, music, dance and theater to schools in the tristate area. The organization also has programs for senior and community centers and hospitals, ranging from African dance groups to songwriting to quilting.
The center in Harlem, at Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 148th Street, offers low-cost classes, taught by professionals, to all ages. About 600 people take classes annually.
“People of any age really have the chance to be transformed by the art and when they walk in the door they can leave the pressures of school and life behind and immerse themselves in the creative art that they’re doing,” says Elizabeth Halverstam, executive director of Arts Horizons. “We feel that’s a legacy that can stay with them the rest of their lives.”
During his career, Mr. Neiman often taught art classes and says that all young artists need to be amused in a classroom to maintain interest. A good artist can be often be identified by his sense of mischief and humor, says Mr. Neiman. Bravado is an important element, too. “Showing off is a big thing,” he says.
Inside Mr. Neiman’s art studio in the Hotel des Artistes on the Upper West Side, the walls are filled with a lifetime of artwork. A painting of Frank Sinatra leaning against the bar at Rao’s Restaurant features prominently. There is a painting of jazz greats that fills a wall and a drawing of a dancer in Vegas. His colorful images have appeared in galleries, hundreds of magazine and newspapers articles and in his book. His paintings of athletes and sporting events are well known.
Mr. Neiman recalls that when he was a young artist he knew he was talented, but what separated him from his competition was a drive to be successful. He sees that in some of the students who attend the Harlem center.
“I was a kid from the streets and being from the streets you knew a lot of things the other kids didn’t know. Mostly mischief,” he says. “So these elements you put to work in your art and your subject matter is rich.”
For Melanie West’s article in the Wall Street Journal:
Renowned Artist Seeks to Inspire New Generation
Arts Horizons LeRoy Neiman Arts Center partnered with the Romare Bearden Foundation for Learning from Bearden, a special exhibition. Celebrating American master Romare Bearden’s influence on artists of all ages, Learning from Bearden features original, rarely exhibited works by Romare Bearden and Bearden-influenced works created by toddler, teen, and adult students from the LeRoy Neiman Art Center and beyond.
11am-4pm and by appointment
2785 Frederick Douglass Boulevard
(at 148th Street)
New York, NY 10039
For student groups, please call Raab Rashi (212) 862-2787