Fiscal Sponsorship Looks Back: Time In Celebrates 10 Years!
“Learning to live creatively is the greatest power.”
Time In began 10 years ago this fall as a NYFA Fiscally Sponsored project and is now a nonprofit organization serving children in the arts. It is a groundbreaking arts initiative that brings some of New York’s youngest, at-risk public school children out of classrooms in Harlem and the South Bronx, and into the world of the living arts every week of the school year as part of their normal school day. Time In transforms the lives of inner city children, by inspiring learning and engagement in nurturing, multi-sensorial environments to enrich children’s lives and help them reach their fullest potential. We are delighted to catch up with Founding Board Member Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène, who joins us for an interview about the beginning of her project and what the organization is up to today.
Join Time In for Beautiful Music for a Beautiful Cause
What: Beautiful Music for a Beautiful Cause, Time In’s benefit featuring the music of Bernstein, Gershwin & Ellington featuring Steinway Artist Lara Downes
Where: Harlem Rooftop Cocktail Party overlooking Central Park
When: Thursday September 29, 2016, 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Tickets: Purchase HERE
NYFA: Congratulations on celebrating the ten year anniversary of Time In: Children’s Arts Initiative! How did the idea of Time In come about and why did you decide to utilize NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship to get it off the ground?
Cyndie Bellen-Berthézène [CBB]: Thanks! It is kind of amazing to be here right before the anniversary of Time In’s first day of class on October 3, 2006. I’ll never forget that day in our studio, we had this amazingly beautiful space on the 14th floor overlooking the river that we had sublet from White Box. Our first kids tiptoed in and within no time they were completely at home. The beginning of some of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever had, with the kids, their teachers and the artists.
But back to the beginning. In 1997, with my almost 3 year-old daughter in tow – my husband and I decided that we needed to move back to New York full-time. Like so many artists who have professional recognition, but are not making enough to support themselves I needed a job. So I made myself a list: I could teach English, French, Russian, Dance, Voice… I had quite a little list. And I looked at the list and I said to myself, “What if I just teach everyone what I’ve taught my daughter?” Since she was not-quite-three I decided to start a toddler program. There was really no such thing in 1997 and certainly not one like mine which taught opera through hands-on studio art alternating with museum visits and gallery hops specializing in contemporary art. In September of 1997, I took my credit card, charged two ads in the big children’s publications, and I had one student. Undeterred, my daughter, my one student and his mom plunged into my fantastic HiArt! curriculum. When my next term started in January, I had something like 20-30 students and before I knew it, HiArt! just took off. In 2000, HiArt! [a precursor to Time In] was selected Best of New York and it became the go-to program for everyone and their brother (and sister) – from David Bowie and Hugh Jackman to Mort Zuckerman, Marla Prather, Wendi Deng, Perry Rubenstein, Sara Fitzmaurice, Inez & Vinoodh, Annie Liebovitz, Marvin & Susan Numeroff, Erica Reid, Liya and Kassy Kebede… I could go on and on and on.
Parents who had very little in the way of monetary resources also found me and I developed my own scholarship program so that everyone could come. A million things happen that make it impossible for people to afford something for their child which would be life changing in a positive way. My priority, because I was one of those kids whose parents couldn’t afford much, was making sure that children weren’t being penalized for what their parents couldn’t provide. So HiArt! went along like that for several years. Classes were diverse, you could have a kid with a bodyguard next to a kid whose father drove a truck, but it wasn’t about what parents did – it was about who the kids were.
In 2005, I reached out to one of my very lovely private clients and told her that I wanted to create the same Opera ‘N Art program for kids of families with a broad spectrum of income levels. She set up a meeting for us with a major arts organization in the hopes that they would help us get off the ground. I explained my project, to take the same exact program as I had created for very privileged kids and give it as a gift to chronically disadvantaged kids. I decided the only way that my program could achieve its goals would be to be part of the regular school day, but like the HiArt! program, it needed to take place in my studio or out at museums and galleries. Equality. Opportunity. Access.
Right off the bat, the experts burst my bubble, “the DOE will never let you take kids out of school and parents will sue you.” We left the meeting confused and let the whole project just sit on the back burner.
The next year, a friend of mine was working on a 501©(3) through NYFA and she suggested that I reach out to NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship. I think it was May, I pulled everything together, applied and within about 3 weeks I was a NYFA fiscally sponsored artist’s project. I reached out to the DOE, talked to the then Director of Arts Programming, told her what I wanted to do, and she said, “We want it!” She set up the busing for the kids every week. We started with 30 kids from one of Harlem’s failing schools and today we have almost 800 kids. So incredible! My first fundraiser, at the home of another HiArt! family, Alicia and John Katzman, raised $3,000 on October 3rd, and by December we had our first grant from New York Community Trust and our first big fundraiser at Perry Rubenstein’s gallery in Chelsea honoring Inez and Vinoodh. When I look back at the whirlwind, even I say, “WOW.”
NYFA: What was the transition like from an NYFA fiscally sponsored artist project to a 501©(3) nonprofit organization? What challenges and surprises did you face as a young nonprofit?
CBB: The day the 501©(3) Determination Letter arrived, we were in the studio with kids and the mailman came. I was just in disbelief. And so thrilled because being an independent 501©(3) is very valuable. The transition was relatively easy. We built capacity very slowly and carefully, so when it came, we were ready for it and had the donor base that we needed. We’re at the next level of transition right now growing from the small, young organization to a bigger one – the bigger you get, the bigger your needs.
The biggest shock back then, was our first review. Back in the friendly days of sponsorship, NYFA handled our donations and fed us back our money. All things financial were with NYFA. But once we had our 501©(3) [and left the NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship program] all that financial stuff fell onto our plate. The first review – because we weren’t big enough for an audit – was a NIGHTMARE. Our fantastic auditor, Gary Flaum sent us a list of 100 million documents that he wanted us to produce and our paperwork was absolutely all over the planet. I was having palpitations every day. But we survived the review, learned what we needed and how to organize. Now, when it comes time for our audit we are all ready to go.
I think the other kind of damper was learning to live with by-laws. Artists are people who live in the moment, our imaginations carry us forward and that’s our strength. Suddenly you have to call someone and say, “Am I allowed to do this?” And more often than most of us would like in our creative lives, a NO comes back at us. Or your board needs to approve, and that definitely puts a crimp in one’s style.
NYFA: How has programming at Time In changed and grown over the past decade?
CBB: Time In started teeny. It was the little sister of the very famous HiArt! program. It took place one morning a week. The school we worked with was such a mess. It was 2006 and Harlem was wracked with drugs – so kids and schools, particularly mine, were in horrific shape. The insanity of our first school was really great, though, because that’s where I learned my craft, if you will. It’s also where I understood who our stakeholders were. They were no longer abstract, but very much players in my universe, as I was a player in theirs. And at the risk of sounding trite, there was this incredible challenge of love. How I can, through my art, through my voice and through opera, give you all the love and support you need to become the best you can be. It’s a job. And it’s one that I love very much.
Those first months there were 30 kids. Today we stand on the verge of 1100 kids every week, if we can raise enough money to meet that challenge. We restructured part of the program to meet the needs of our schools when the kids entered 3rd grade by starting Arty Readers: Opera, Manga, Literacy, Museum Visits & Gallery Hops. That made a huge impact on our schools. In the first year of Arty Readers, one whole class in a Harlem partner school that is a feeder for 5 domestic violence shelters had a 100% pass rate on their ELA when the citywide pass rate was 30%. What’s important is that everything happens through opera, through studio art – with kids invested in their product there is no limit to what they will learn, what they want to learn. They desperately want ownership. You just need to capture their imaginations, treat them with dignity and abracadabra, miracles, gorgeous artwork, a love of opera and ballet. We have the only kindergarteners in the city who boo when they only get to hop to two Chelsea galleries instead of three.
NYFA: Do you have any advice for artists who have a passion for arts education and want to make a difference? How did you cultivate the skills and experiences to lead an organization?
CBB: First of all if you have the passion and you’re a working artist and you love kids, you should come work for us! What I wanted to make sure that I did with Time In was to create an environment for artists who are in the early stages of their careers and who, like me at the time, don’t make enough money through their art to support themselves and the cost of making art. My lessons and coachings in the 80s ran for about $700/week. I know that the artists who work with me struggle the same way. It COSTS money to paint, it costs money to have a studio. I just wanted to make sure that I could create jobs for artists that would allow them to bring the best of who they are to kids who really need it, and to then go back to their studios and maintain their practice.
In terms of skills, sometimes being a little bit poor can be good! As a teenager I always worked, and when I graduated from high school my mother forced me to get a real job. So I worked for a publishing company and got great experience in business. Because I was very advanced in my dance skills, I taught dance at Antioch when I was in college, and I went out to run a dance department at Windham College when I was just 18. I did everything from a receptionist at a 57th Street hair salon, to working as a stylist in Paris, to doing beauty PR to having my own fashion photographer’s agency, to working for a major tv producer as the office assistant. So I could negotiate contracts, handle clients, teach, organize, etc. When I started HiArt! I was able to bring those skills to bear, and Time In grew out of HiArt!. A circuitous process, but life gives you experiences and expertise if the need is there. For me, the need was there because I always had to earn a living. And because it was quickly clear to me that the best way to earn a living was sharing my special gifts and expertise with others. I’m an incredibly different person than I was when I started Time In. Working with people living in challenged communities teaches you very big lessons. I’m still learning every day.
NYFA: What role does collaboration play in managing your organization?
CBB: The people I collaborate with the most are the artists who work alongside me with the kids. We have to be almost like an improv group – everyone needs to read the signals all the time. There’s a lot of theater going on – both in the presentation of the materials to the kids and in the bouncing off each other that we do to make the program alive – a kind of performance art.
NYFA: What are your ‘young alum’ up to after they leave the program?
CBB: One of the problems working in at-risk communities is the instability everywhere, so the original kids from 2006 are in high school now and I hear from some parents, teachers and grandparents about kids who were in the program. Time In’s first real alumnae, kids we’ve had since Pre-K or Kindergarten will graduate this year, so we’ll have to wait to tell you next September.
Today our challenge is to raise the funds that we need to make sure that every single one of those kids has the programming that they deserve. Once, in the South Bronx, during the bus strike, we were working with little kids on the top floor of PS63, when a 5th grader ambled into the room and his mouth dropped open. “Why do we never get to do anything fun like this?” was his very sad question. Time In’s job is to make sure that no kid ever feels that way. Learning through play, through experimentation, loving process… those are an artist’s domain. I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to share that with kids, especially kids who need that kind of resilience in their arsenal. Learning to live creatively is the greatest power. That’s Time In.
Interested in NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship for your next great idea? Our next application deadlines are September 30 and December 30. Click here to learn more about our program.
Want to support Time In but unable to attend their benefit? Check out this donate page to help Cyndie’s vision a reality.
– Interview by Madeleine Cutrona, Program Assistant Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance
All images courtesy of Time In: Queen of the Night Magic Flute final book, dirty hands in the studio, sculpture with Mallory Breiner for our Chashama Residency, Sadko PS 197 2nd Grade, studio, Amazing Lock with Mouths