Broadway Housing Communities is a non-profit housing developer committed to providing innovative permanent supportive housing for individuals and families in the greatest need. Located in the West Harlem and Washington Heights communities in New York City, a hallmark of their model is their successful integration of community-based arts and culture with supportive housing services, and high-quality early childhood education.

Broadway Housing’s newest endeavor, situated in Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district, will blend together 124 units of affordable housing, an expansive early childhood education center, green initiatives, and pervasive cultural arts opportunities into a model of urban community revitalization. The new development will house ArtPlace’s 2012 top-ranked award recipient, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

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

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really REALLY well to achieve success with your initiative?

BAXTER: We regard as “success” those effects that reflect/acknowledge the core principles and intersections of our work: social justice, opportunity, education and richness of community.

We must, therefore ensure that the Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling will be integrated into the educational and social fabric of the neighborhood and will support activities that will contribute to the rebirth of “vibrancy” – once a signature feature of the Sugar Hill community. The Museum will afford the opportunity for children to serve both as authors/storytellers, as well as active listeners to the tales shared by others. This reciprocal construct builds appreciation of a collected body of work that over time can be refined by children as they return to further develop their archived contributions. It also acknowledges and celebrates the importance of “storytelling”, which is deeply rooted in both African American and Latino cultures. A resurgence of community vibrancy will impact not only the residents of the Sugar Hill neighborhood but also those visitors who come from other parts of the city and indeed the world.

ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

BAXTER: The nature of our work is such that there will be immediate effects and, more importantly, effects that will emerge and continue to strengthen over the years. For example, providing opportunities for young people to experience art will instill, in the short term, acquisition of (demonstrable!) language and a framework for reacting to subsequent encounters with arts. These skills extend to and permeate other experiences – particularly in a city as rich in the arts as NYC – facilitating social exchange, adaptability to unfamiliar experiences, and mature critical perspectives. In the long term, we expect that early and frequent exposure to the arts will foster creativity and a love of various forms of expression that will be invaluable assets going forward.