By Linda F. Nathan, Founding Headmaster
In 1998, I was the founding Headmaster of Boston Arts Academy. The first time I entered the building with hip boots and a hardhat. The paint on the walls of 174 Ipswich Street was barely dry and wires poked out in random places. We weren’t sure where we needed to move barrels to hold water that leaked through various crevices. I remember during a Nor’easter storm staying into the wee hours of the morning covering student records and work with plastic tarps! Nevertheless, we were undeterred. We were realizing a dream for Boston: the first public high school for the visual and performing arts. Those were heady days as we developed the rituals, routines and structures that would sustain us. In our early professional development each of the founding teachers experimented with teaching the rest of us their content area. What was essential to learn about Drawing? About Geometry? Dance? History? I still remember some of those initial lessons. We kept questions of equity at the center as we engaged with both what and how we would teach. Our questions were deep and varied. They got better and better. Always, our students and their dreams were close at hand. These would be the first graduates of our school. We deeply felt our responsibility to them and their families.
Twenty-five years later, on Sunday, October 23, 2022, many of those founding faculty, staff, board members and friends gathered at the new Boston Arts Academy, still located at 174 Ipswich Street. We came from near and far to celebrate the opening of this state of the art building– a true dream come true. There were no barrels catching leaks. Maybe there are still a few unfinished areas, but the building is stunning– worthy of the education the students receive.
Sandra Gordon, Fernadina Chan, Carmen Torres, Linda Nathan, Kay Sloan
The photos of the founders perch proudly on a library shelf. The library is gorgeous, accessible, and right off the cafeteria– still a centerpiece of the school. And still the first urban library to win a national excellence award… Of all the awards BAA has received, that still makes me the most proud!
We circled up to commemorate Carmen Torres, Founding Assistant Headmaster and Co-Headmaster. Anne Clark, current head of school, and founding faculty, welcomed us and invoked the shared values. Every morning Carmen would remind the students to live those values. Today, Anne called out: “Passion,” and we responded, “with Balance.” “Diversity,” and we answered, “with Respect .” We still can chant all four values. Peter McCaffery, founding Director of Student Support, led us in a ritual that Carmen had established long ago: to hold the memory of a student, a teacher, a mentor or friend- whose spirit we wanted to bring into the building for generations to come. We passed out markers and wrote the person’s name on our hand, as well as a quality of that person that we wanted to recall. We sat in a circle, just as we did for so many meetings, and memories of the years leading BAA with Carmen came pouring back. As Peter said, her light filled the room.
I am grateful to all who were able to be there and those that wanted to come but couldn’t.
I’m enormously proud that after twenty-five years, BAA has a building worthy of an arts high school. But I am even more proud of the many many generations of teachers, students, parents and colleagues who created this school. May all your energy continue to imbue the next generations of artists, and may Carmen’s spirit continue to guide us. I sat on the stairs alone and felt Carmen’s strength pouring into me. Founders have a special role. We are always founders. Today, I felt the next generation leading the school forward. I am so proud.