To Liz Hopfan, art is the great equalizer. He believes that for a child, even more than an adult, the experience of making art, or simply appreciating it, can open up their world.
A lifelong art lover, Hopfan was raised by parents who instilled in him an appreciation of fine painting, classical sculpture and photography from an early age. He spent his childhood moving from his New Jersey home to New York City to see the famous works of the world’s most respected cultural institutions and create his own art—the family refrigerator was his permanent gallery. “My parents constantly inspired me to use creativity and intuition during my education and career decisions,” she says. “I also knew that not every child is lucky enough to have this support and encouragement. It ultimately influenced my decision to go back and get a master’s degree in education.”
After graduating, Hopfan took a job as an elementary school teacher in an underdeveloped area of Los Angeles, where he noticed art education programs were drying up. In his spare time, he volunteers at Free Arts, an organization that empowers youth facing poverty, abuse, homelessness or other injustices by exposing them to art and offering mentoring programs to help them develop creativity, confidence and success skills. “This is where I really understood the important intersection of art making and mentoring,” she says “I was inspired by how the kids opened up when they engaged with the arts and volunteer mentors.”
These experiences, along with encouragement from the founders of Free Arts LA, prompted him to return east and start a free arts program in New York. After assembling a board of directors full of like-minded people and raising money, he launched Free Arts NYC In 1997 a budget of $100,000 and a staff.
Twenty-five years later, the organization serves children and youth across New York’s five boroughs — including 22 New York City community-based and Department of Homeless Services-affiliated agencies, as well as 15 underserved neighborhood schools.
“There is a clear disparity among New York’s youth that is rooted primarily in differences in neighborhood, ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” Hopfan said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this gap, and the schools and community groups we partner with are struggling even more to find the resources to help. Free Arts helps provide strong programming that levels the playing field.”
A canvas for creativity
Free Arts Days is the organization’s marquee event. During these day-long festivities, kids ages 6-12 are paired with mentors for an afternoon of art-making and bonding aimed at igniting their creative spark. The Teen Arts Program provides personalized, long-term mentoring, arts education and career training for youth ages 13-21 who are interested in pursuing the arts academically and/or professionally. Volunteers help seventh- and 11th-graders build their creative portfolios to apply to specialized high schools and colleges, and teach them about the art industry through facility visits, employee chats and internships.
“The programs were designed to create access and opportunities in the creative arts,” Hopfan explains. “The reality is that while New York City is the cultural capital of the world, many young people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and/or attending low-performing schools have no exposure to the arts. Their own creativity. And when they explore their creative side, we support them. Introduce career paths and help them develop skills so they can set and pursue their goals.”
An inspiring way forward
Hopfan’s current pursuit is a scholarship program designed to help college students defray the costs of supplies, art materials, studio time, books, “or even food, if they really need it.”
More important than providing supplies to budding artists is helping them build an artistic community. “Whenever I meet someone new or meet a person in a creative endeavor, I get excited and find ways to share their journey with our youth,” says Hopfan, who believes everyone can share their time and knowledge. And so should young people.
Free Arts NYC exists because That’s the time to share. Thanks to the small group who first contributed their resources toward philanthropic efforts—and who continue to do so—more than 32,000 children have benefited from the organization’s programming. And it’s programming that gets results; 100 percent of teen portfolio mentees are accepted into the high school of their choice.
While Hopfan’s contribution is impressive, it should be inspiring, not intimidating. BNY Mellon Wealth Management can help you build a strong financial foundation so you can pursue the causes closest to your heart. In-house experts consider both your financial future and charitable pursuits (such as arts education and mentoring) when creating your personalized wealth management plan. You can start with a small investment, use your money to do something good, and ultimately take a page out of Hopfan’s book by changing thousands of lives for the better.
“When you look at art, you feel something different,” says Hopfan, reflecting on that first experience as a young girl in New York City. “We want kids to be able to remember the first time they went to a museum or an art gallery or the ballet.” Thanks to HopFan for putting his money where the passion is, they will.
Learn how BNY Mellon Wealth Management can help you “Do Well Better” and support causes close to your heart.
This content is a paid promotion of BNY Mellon Wealth Management. Pratibha is not a BNY Mellon Wealth Management client and Talent participation and compensation managed by Hearst.
Photographer: Jillian Guette; Wardrobe Stylist: Sachiko Clyde; Hair and Makeup: Liselotte Van Saarloos
Edited by Rebecca Strasburg