By Danielle Ranucci
The Usdan community celebrated a milestone and raised funds for scholarships at its 50th Anniversary Gala held July 19. The event was held on the campus of the arts-focused summer camp in Wheatley Heights and showcased the work of both current and past students.
“You come through the art show from all of our visual arts students, and then you’re seated in the McKinley amphitheater, where performing arts are showcased. After that, you’re welcomed into the tent right next to our administrative building for dinner,” said Kyra Leeds, a Usdan alumna from 2000.
The gala raised nearly $200,000 in scholarship and program funds, and honored influential members of the Usdan community, including: Elaine Panik Gates; Pattie Panik Falber; Heather Bifulco; Michelle, Megan and Amanda Marino; the Incorvaia family; the Keenan Family; Erica Kuhn (in memoriam); the Leeds family; the Lehman–DiMartino family; Debra and Dale Lewis; Andrew McKinley (in memoriam); Dr. Jerrold Ross; the Schaeffler Family; the Schecher family and the UJA – Federation of New York.
One of the honorees, Dr. Jerrold Ross, was the first president of Usdan’s Board of Trustees who helped set the tone for Usdan’s design and philosophy.
“The expression Usdan used was, ‘lose yourself for a summer and find yourself for a lifetime.’ We would accept students of all abilities in music, art and dance, to provide the highest level of experience to children who were interested or were already proficient in the arts. There was nothing like it in the country except at Interlochen [Center for the Arts],” said Ross.
Another honoree, Elaine Gates, a member of Usdan’s 1968 chorus, conducted the chorus in singing “The Rhythm of Life.”
“I had a tri-generation chorus, featuring today’s campers, their parents and their grandparents, which is what I had really envisioned for the gala,” said Gates.
Usdan was founded in 1968 by Dr. Maurice Hexter and philanthropist Samuel Lemberg with a vision of a place for teaching the arts in a summer camp setting. It was named after Lemberg’s daughter, Suzanne Usdan. Its first executive director was Andrew McKinley, a musician. He was succeeded by Dale Lewis who served for 38 years. In 2015 the current executive director, Lauren Brandt Schloss, took the reins.
“I’m really proud of my colleagues. It’s a real delight to be a part of this community,” said Schloss.
Schloss has spearheaded programs to fulfill Usdan’s philosophy of exposing as many kids as possible to the arts.
The “Uniquely U” scholarship is awarded to 10 prospective students on the basis of merit and demonstrated passion.
Additionally, Usdan’s faculty has grown to include artists in residence such as Duke University professor Pedro Lasch and the International Contemporary Ensemble.
“In the last couple of years we’re really pushing the envelope of what kind of art comes here,” said Schloss.
With funds from the gala, Usdan seeks to broaden its course offerings.
“We’re looking to grow a culinary arts program,” said Schloss.
Overall, the gala will enable Usdan’s growth.
“I feel like we’re always just growing,” said camper Heather Millman.