Since 1983, Broadway Housing Communities has developed permanent, affordable housing for some of New York’s poorest individuals and families in West Harlem and Washington Heights; created an award-winning early childhood center; provided mentoring and support services for adults, children and families; and strengthened entire communities through engagement with the cultural arts.

With 124 units of affordable housing, an expansive early childhood education center, green initiatives and a focus on culture and the arts, Broadway Housing’s newest endeavor, situated in Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district, is a model of urban community revitalization.  The Sugar Hill Project is also home to ArtPlace’s 2012 top-ranked award recipient, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

ArtPlace caught up with Ellen Baxter, Founder and Executive Director of Broadway Housing Communities, to talk with her about the project.

ARTPLACE:  Who outside your organization has been key to your ability to move your initiative forward?

BAXTER:   Our planning process for the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling has benefited enormously from the expertise and wisdom of museum, education and community programming professionals in New York City and around the country.  Prof. Steve Seidel, Program Director, Arts in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, has been a particularly important partner in our thinking about the museum and its role in early childhood education;  Georgina Ngozi, Director of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator for the Studio Museum in Harlem have both very generously provided helpful advice and feedback during the museum planning process; finally, the Bloomberg administration’s endorsement of Broadway Housing’s mission was invaluable to our effort to assemble capital financing.  In terms of programming going forward, Sugar Hill will give us the space to grow explore new partnerships and grow existing collaborations.

The truth is that partnerships have always been an essential component of Broadway Housing Communities’ mission and work, starting with the individuals and communities we serve. I can’t overstate how important that is to understanding the needs our programs are designed to address.

ARTPLACE:  Are there secrets to good partnerships?

BAXTER:  It may be obvious but probably worth noting anyway:  we look for partners whose missions and values are closely aligned with our own. That way, even though we may be bringing different resources and perspectives to a project, as partners we know we’re starting with a common language, a common understanding of what the project is meant to accomplish and why it’s so important.

At the intersection of education and the arts, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling will offer countless opportunities to partner with artists and educators—and to facilitate opportunities for artists and educators to work with each other—to serve children and families in Upper Manhattan.

We also look for synergies which can extend the reach of both partners and make more effective use of limited resources.  Joining forces allows us to develop programs and opportunities for creative placemaking that will serve audiences and attract funding support that wouldn’t have been possible had we acted on our own.  A recent example is the programming we’ve shared with LitWorld, a nonprofit literacy and arts education organization.  Last summer we collaborated on a mini-camp for middle school age children and the results exceeded our expectations.  We’re now discussing opportunities to combine LitWorld’s expertise in literacy programs with our museum resources at Sugar Hill to create an exponentially greater impact on our community.