Liz Hopfan is the founder and Executive Director of Free Arts NYC, a non-profit organization that offers arts education and mentoring programs to underserved youth and families living in New York City. Currently in its 17th year of operation, the organization has helped more than 30,000 low-income participants foster the self-confidence and resiliency needed to realize their fullest potential.
Haute Living sat down with Hopfman to learn more about Free Arts NYC.
How did you first hear about Free Arts?
I was working as an elementary public school teacher in South Central Los Angeles in the mid-90s and began volunteering at Free Arts, which originated in LA.
What inspired you to get involved?
Working in the public school system, I was witness every day to the lack of arts programming offered to inner-city children. Through volunteering at Free Arts in LA, I came to better understand the capacity of the arts to build youth confidence and creativity, and to provide endless learning opportunities.
How did you go about bringing the non-profit organization to New York?
From my experience as a teacher and volunteer in LA, I decided to bring a similar arts outreach model back to the east coast. I moved back in with my parents, put together a board of directors made up of friends and family, and set out to ask everyone I knew to donate money. I was very fortunate to receive seed money, along with a three-year commitment from a family here in NYC. We started with a staff of one and a $100,000 operating budget and now have an annual budget of $2.3M and a staff of 21.
What was your first achieved project as the head of Free Arts NYC?
The first event we held was a Free Arts Days in east New York. It was December and during a horrible snow storm. The day was supposed to start at 10 AM, but no one showed up until noon. We all ended up having a great time, but I learned my lesson about how early people want to get up on the weekends!
How is the money allocated to the families?
All donations go directly to running our five core arts mentoring programs across the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. This entails the development of professionally-vetted arts curricula for all program cycles, the hiring and training our masters-level teaching artists, and the recruitment of over 2,000 volunteer mentors annually. Our programs reach over 1,800 individual participants each year, and are run directly at over 20 social service partner agencies located in under-resourced communities, which include schools, Beacon centers, and supportive housing facilities. Our programs engage both youth individually as well as together with their families.
Why do you think that art helps children?
Art gives voice to content that at times is too difficult or complex to verbalize. It helps youth to experience diverse perspectives on shared experiences, building both empathy and awareness of how information can be processed and communicated differently from one person to the next. The creative process helps children to build self-knowledge and take risks without fear of judgment. Exploring the arts help youth to think critically, developing skills on how to reflect and make meaning. Above all else, the arts provide a platform through which to explore the freedom and joys found through the imagination, and the reward of bringing it all to life.
What inspired you to collaborate with the artist, Andre?
We did a project with Details and Andre. The prints sold out immediately so Andre did a second run of hand-touched prints for us.
Tell us about your annual art auction. This year it celebrates artist Scott Campbell and is supported by designer Marc Jacobs.
We are very excited about our upcoming auction. It is never easy to hold a big event, but once we confirmed Scott everything fell into place. Scott is an amazing, generous artist and has a great following.
What are your expectations for the event?
We are thrilled to celebrate Scott with the support of another creative icon, Marc Jacobs. We are confident that with such high-caliber honorees our annual auction will be met with great success and the opportunity to cultivate relationships with an ever-growing community of creative thinkers and arts advocates in New York City and beyond. We are also excited to be celebrating Free Arts this year at such a pivotal moment in our organization’s history, as we continue to expand upon the reach and quality of our arts outreach programs, welcoming youth into the arts world now from early childhood through their teenage years.