Old School Nostalgia

By Sonise Lumbaca

I would say that high school, and particularly my time at the H.S. of Art & Design, was where my artistic inclinations began, but this is NOT the case. I have been drawing since I was a toddler and demonstrated above average drawing and coloring at the age five. I made my debut at my father’s birthday party when he discovered a drawing I made. He became so excited that he boasted loudly to everyone that I was clearly his daughter (besides physically being his spitting image), because I had inherited his artistic abilities. Naturally, I felt embarrassed at the harmless attention parents so often draw towards their children when they are proud of them.

My father was an accomplished artist and sought formal education to hone in his birth given talent. Which brings me back to the H.S. of Art & Design. While it didn’t give me any of my artistic and basic creative abilities. It did facilitate my growth. The high school requires prospective students to apply, interview, and present their portfolio of artwork. Years ago I went through this process and was welcomed into the folds of this world of all thing artistic and creative. It helped me hone in my talent using various mediums (such as paint, pen and ink, photography, etc.), and improve on perfecting it.

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In recent times my high school occupied my thoughts. I remembered many of my classmates and wondered what they were doing now. I thought about my professors and wondered if they were still there and if not what were they doing. Many thoughts came to me. Then I learned that there would be an artist fair there; Fanfaire to be exact. I became excited and just had to go. It would be so cool to visit my high school and see if it had changed even in the slightest. To see the different array of art forms put out by the students and if it differed vastly. To see if the students had even changed overall and what they focused on. What had the art course curriculum evolved into; was it the same or something greater? And, to perhaps see if I would run into any of my old classmates (as highly unrealistic as this would be).

But first, what is the H.S. of Art & Design? The high school was initially titled the School of Industrial Art back in 1936 and located on West 40th Street in New York, NY. Yes, I did not know that the school was so old. It was first envisioned as a continuation school where students attended part time, and then it eventually became a full-time vocational high school. From its original location, it moved to East 79th Street, and in 1960, it moved to East 57th Street and Second Ave. Where I used to travel to every day to and from. All things artistic, to include fashion designing was a part of the curriculum and each student has a choice in what they wanted to concentrate in. I even designed and walked the catwalk myself in a fashion show but eventually focused in Fine Arts and photography. But let’s get back to my visit.

My partner in crime and bestie, my sister Ayesha came with me (as she does with all convention type events we participate in). While walking through midtown Manhattan on the east side, where the high school is located, I definitely had a sense of déjà vu. Many structures were familiar, the many towering skyscrapers remained in abundance, and the hustle and bustle of the traffic (despite it being a Saturday morning), brought back the memories of that walk to school each morning. Today, something was a bit off though. As I drew closer, the building and streets did not look familiar at all. Even the entry into the school was different. We were greeted by a big security operations desk (signs of the time? Even in a city where it is illegal to carry a firearm). I did not recognize anything about the building. Sure it appeared a bit outdated to some degree as previous, but it was totally different.

As we made our way to the different floors to the cafeteria, classrooms, and gymnasium where we met a good deal of industry creatives, artists and cosplayer, the school’s ground was still unfamiliar to me. In fact, the school seemed different all around. What was familiar was the hallways of the school turned into galleries of the students’ artwork; something I always appreciated. The H.S. of Art & Design maintained its tradition in allowing the students to treat the school as its virtual canvases so to speak. This is something I unfortunately did not take advantage of as a student there, but always appreciated.

I turned my attention away from unfamiliar appearance and focused more on the works of the creatives that surrounded me. We met some of the alumnus who recently graduated. It was cool talking to them about their experience there. Some were cosplayers, while others either volunteered during the fair or occupied table space down artist alley selling their artwork. I have to say, within these conversations, I didn’t learn anything new about the school; which I think can be a good thing. To me it means that the school’s formulas, for providing a variety of opportunities and avenues as it does it part in nurturing the hands of man-made beauty, continues work. I breathed, saw and spoke all things artistic that day the same way I did when I attended the high school as a student. I was so happy to have attended the school’s Fanfaire and see some pretty amazing artwork and personalities.

Prior to leaving the school’s event, I just had to ask the security guards at the operation desk when did the updated construction occur (continuing to note that the interior did not look like new construction)? They informed me that the school had moved a couple of blocks away from its original location in 2012. I had to laugh as it validated my thoughts. While the types of artists didn’t change significantly, nor much of the artistic styles, nor the schools important foundation of honing in and helping its artists perfect their craft, this indeed was not the original location of the high school. Some things change for the better. Some things don’t. While some things only seek to improve on a foundation that have already been built.