The mission of the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education is to empower youth and their families by creating a culture of learning through high quality social, cultural, and educational opportunities.
Founded in 1934 by two New York City public school teachers, Claire and Elizabeth Sullivan, Casita Maria was the first charitable organization to serve the Hispanic population in New York City. The Sullivan sisters began their work from their small East Harlem apartment. They sought to give recently arrived Hispanic families the educational support needed to thrive in their new homeland—the young could lead their parents and their community to full participation in the American Dream.
Casita Maria moved to the South Bronx from East Harlem in 1961, and like so many of the changes we have made, we moved to better serve our community. At the time of the move we were offering programs similar to those created by our founders, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers gained vital skills and were offered essential services through our programs. Even during one of the darkest periods in our community’s history, Casita Maria stayed and served. As the “Bronx Burned” in the 1970’s, Casita Maria was an island of safety and a route out of poverty. Throughout these years we expanded our programs to include homeless services, drug rehabilitation, violence prevention, gang intervention, teen pregnancy prevention,and many other services. When people look back to this time, Casita Maria is credited with protecting many thousands of vulnerable children and adults.
Indeed, we hear reports from “Casita Kids”—who include Tito Puente, Rita Moreno, and Tina Ramirez, the founder of Ballet Hispanico— of all generations stating that it was our programs that supported them on their climb out of poverty and gave them the tools to succeed. Local cops say we kept them on the “straight and narrow” when they were young and living in the neighborhood. Civic and business leaders acknowledge the difference their time with Casita made. Like our founders, we are still committed to helping the members of our community achieve the American Dream.
Casita’s 75th Anniversary this past year coincided with the grand opening in September of the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, a new 90,000 square foot facility on its property in The Bronx that will serve Casita’s operational and programming headquarters and will house New York City public school with a capacity of 550 middle/high school students.
With the opening of the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education building, we are poised to serve our community in ways that can only have been dreamed of by our founders. With its state of the art facilities, carefully designed classrooms, and fully equipped studios the new building will allow us to triple the number of New York City students able to participate in our in our in school and after school time arts and education programs. A new theatre and a gallery will draw community members and people from around the city in to the building for a wide range of performances and exhibitions. And during the day, our bright vibrant space will also be home to the Bronx Studio School for Artists and Writers. It’s a building that will never rest!
Built by the NYC School Construction Authority, under the auspices of the NYC Department of Education, on land owned by Casita Maria the new building is the culmination of a remarkable public/private partnership that has developed over many years. By diligently working together our Board and staff, our partners in New York City Government, our supporters, and our community we have created something very special for the South Bronx, and for the city at large.
The opening of our new building comes at an important moment in the history of the South Bronx. Our neighborhood is reviving. Almost daily, the changes are being reported in the press, featured in magazines, and mentioned on television. Restaurants are introduced, architecture is acclaimed, and, most frequently, the rapidly developing cultural life is celebrated. Casita Maria is taking a leadership role in these changes. We are providing a place were the creative talents of the community can bloom and be showcased. Our programs are fostering the academic achievement, developing the skills that lead to job and entrepreneurial opportunities, and offering the critical social and cultural enrichment that directly support participation in the Borough’s cultural and economic revival.