Volume 17 • Issue 18 | SEPTEMBER 24 - 30, 2004

Dennis Drew, center, a childhood friend of the director of the Church Street Music School, and the rest of the 10,000 Maniacs will perform a benefit concert for the school and Manhattan Youth on Sept. 30.

A band of Maniacs helping youth groups

By David H. Ellis

Facing a budget crunch, Church Street School for Music and Art and Manhattan Youth, two Lower Manhattan children’s organizations, took an unorthodox route in trying to raise funds for the expansion and continuation of their programs. Instead of the tried-and-true method of bake sales or soliciting neighbors for donations, the two groups opted for a novel approach asking the renowned musical group 10,000 Maniacs to play a benefit concert. It worked.

Billing the Thursday, Sept. 30th event as “The Last Blast At Pier 25,” the two area non-profit organizations collaborated and came up with the idea a little under a year ago to raise funds for their respective facility expansion and after school programs.

“He [Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth] came to me and said he wanted to do a benefit concert and asked if I knew anybody,” recalls Lisa Ecklund-Flores, the director of the Church Street School for Music and Art who managed to enlist the help of the 10,000 Maniacs last December. “There were logistics to work out, but the concept was immediately appealing.”

She called her childhood friend Dennis Drew, the Maniacs co-founder and keyboardist. Drew said in a telephone interview that it was the idea of supporting Lower Manhattan and the arts that sold his group on performing at the benefit.

“I think arts education is a very worthy cause and it is something that has been challenged over the country recently, so any organization that can provide that education and deliver these services is a worthwhile cause,” Drew said. “What happened in Lower Manhattan three years ago — I don’t want to be clichéd — but it changed our world and we are just lucky enough to help out.”

As the brainchild of Ecklund-Flores and Laura Bailey 15 years ago, the Church Street School for Music and Art has steadily grown from its humble beginnings as a two-room facility at 311 Church St. that catered to 150 students, to enrolling nearly 400 young artists and musicians every year. After moving to their new space at 74 Warren St. in Tribeca six years later in 1996, the organization quickly found itself unable to accommodate the expanding numbers of students interested in taking painting and collage classes or folk guitar lessons. At one point, the school was even forced to rent space at a music studio nearby. Ecklund-Flores, who became the sole director of Church Street School after Bailey moved to Pennsylvania in 2000, decided to relieve the overcrowding problem by converting the building’s basement storage area into five new practice rooms and workshop space, which will be used for the first time this year.

“Every available space was used — teachers were even teaching in my office while I was trying to work,” said Ecklund-Flores, recalling the environment at the school over the past few years. “The fact that I had to rent space outside of the school, it was clear to me that we had to do the expansion — we could not wait to make sure the funding was in order.”

For Manhattan Youth, an organization which has sponsored children’s programs since 1986 and works with about 1,000 kids a year, the success of the Last Blast concert is critical towards sustaining the 20 different I.S. 89 after-school clubs and a planned community center scheduled to be built at Chambers and West Sts. on a lot known as Site 5C. The City Council approved the residential development project two weeks and Manhattan Youth is expected to run the recreation center on the site.

Bob Townley, the executive director of the organization, said the planned community feel of the Last Blast concert is an element which both his organization and the Church Street School have worked to establish in Lower Manhattan.

“This event is community-based since you’re sitting around with friends, listening to music and having a backyard barbeque,” said Townley. “It’s not a stuffy fundraiser — it’s a community event.”

For both groups, Sept. 11 has played a role in their respective budgetary shortfalls. While the Church Street School for Music and Art saw a slump in their enrollment for the following two years, Manhattan Youth was forced to move their after school programs, while their swimming pool was demolished by the fall of the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, both groups believed that it was necessary to remain with the neighborhood that helped nurture their growth.

Pier 25, where 10,000 Maniacs will perform as well as a 24-piece steel pan band from Brooklyn and another local group called the Lewis Elderlane Experience, is supposed to be demolished and rebuilt although the start date has not been set.

Townley, who leases the Tribeca pier from the Hudson River Park Trust, said Manhattan Youth would use Pier 25 until construction on the Tribeca section of the Hudson River Park begins. Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, said recently that she expects to have the money to build the Downtown section soon. If so, construction would likely begin before next summer and the pier area would be closed while a new one was built.

With Drew and his band initiating the first of what Townley hopes to be a yearly event heralding the end of summer, the 10,000 Maniacs keyboardist believes that the concert should appeal to both long-time fans and new devotees. The group’s singer is Oskar Saville, who fills the slot once held by Natalie Merchant. She will perform songs from the entire 10,000 Maniacs catalog, said Drew.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “People who haven’t seen us in a while will be thrilled,”

The Last Blast at Pier 25 starts at 5 p.m. on September 30 and will take place at the intersection of the Hudson River and North Moore St. in Tribeca. The evening starts at 5 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. Tickets are $125 and includes an all-you-can-eat barbecue.

For tickets, call 212-766-1104 x233 and for more information go online to www.manhattanyouth.org.

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