Track Record of Success
The driving force behind HAI’s inception, and the passion that propels us forward, is an unyielding commitment to making the arts accessible to all New Yorkers, especially individuals who are isolated and marginalized due to institutionalization, hospitalization, disability and illness, as well as at risk youth in low-income neighborhoods – audiences most in need of the healing role of arts.
In the 1960s Michael Jon Spencer, an accomplished pianist and performer with a passion for music, having dropped out of Harvard Law School, entered Queens College’s graduate music program. Pursuing a degree in music recital, his graduate thesis required him to perform for a unique and defined audience. So Michael scheduled his recital at the Manhattan State Psychiatric Center, where he was certain to have a captivated, non-traditional audience. So successful and positive was the response to this performance, that Michael and his piano were set up on the hospital elevator and successive concerts were presented floor by floor to isolated, institutionalized mental health patients and hospital staff.
Demand for more performances of this sort grew quickly, and soon Michael was giving regular recitals across the City, reaching nearly 1,000 patients each week. From these initial performances, Michael and medical facility staff clearly observed the power of live music and the seeds of HAI were sown. Soon thereafter, Michael contacted over 300 foundations for the funding to start an organization devoted to bringing live performances to institutionalized individuals. One anonymous donor, later found to be none other than the late Alice Tully, responded to the request and this initial funding helped to launch HAI. In 1969, Hospital Audiences Inc. was born.
Over the last 44 years, HAI has grown exponentially in both scope and reach, with each succeeding decade embracing new underserved audiences. Soon after HAI’s initial foray into the state psychiatric centers, HAI expanded its services to reach other isolated New Yorkers. The 1970s brought about a wider social awareness of the positive effects of artistic performance for varied audiences- seniors, special needs children, families undergoing cancer treatment and adults with mental illness. HAI branched-out aggressively, expanding art-making and performance into prisons, nursing homes, schools for the developmentally disabled and other education and medical settings.
The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s further expanded both HAI’s services and audiences. During this decade, HAI launched its arts education department employing theatre arts techniques and evidence-based role play to address critical health and social issues. Moreover, amplified recognition of the beneficial effects of participation in the arts by special needs audiences, such as the developmentally disabled, resulted in HAI designing customized programming using various culture and arts activities to meet the specific social, medical, personal and educational needs of a wide range of underserved audiences.
In the 1990s, HAI continued to respond to evolving community needs; prompting outreach to the city’s homeless, offering life skills workshops and opportunities to participate in community events. Efforts to bring the arts to other physically disabled individuals were bolstered as well, and programs such as Describe! Were launched, introducing live audio description for the growing population of New York City residents who are blind or visually impaired. All the while, access was further provided to service recipients when HAI reconstructed three MTA buses to especially accommodate wheelchair and bed-bound users. Emerging as a one-stop-shop for diverse cultural access programs, HAI established itself as the leader in comprehensive 360 cultural services for the under-served.
In tandem with these new programs and services, HAI continued efforts to ensure all underserved New Yorkers would have the opportunity to share in the many events and performances throughout the city by offering tickets to Broadway, Off-Broadway, sporting events and extravaganzas at esteemed cultural venues. Building upon this effort, HAI established the Community Performing Arts Series, making high-quality performance affordable and accessible to audiences at community based venues throughout all five boroughs. In a similar spirit, HAI’s Summer Program provided safe, comfortable and accessible seating to physically disabled individuals and frail seniors at New York City’s vast summertime concerts and performances, including the Philharmonic, the Met Outdoor HD festival, River-to-River concerts, Shakespeare in the Park and dozens of community-based shows and cultural outings, otherwise unavailable to our audiences.
The new millennium has not slowed HAI’s growth. As the economy took a downturn and arts funding was gutted from schools and cultural centers, HAI counteracted the trend by designing and delivering high-quality, affordable and flexible customized arts education programs to assist schools, health facilities, senior centers and youth organizations.
As HAI approached five decades of continuous and innovative service, the agency’s leadership was passed to the current Executive Director, David Sweeny, who has brought years of nonprofit management experience to HAI. As a blind executive and off-hours jazz pianist, David’s passion for HAI programming runs very deep and is intensely personal. With a new executive team and the addition of new cracker-jack staff, Board Members and volunteers, HAI continues in our steadfast commitment to reaching New York City’s most marginalized and isolated audiences to ensure that the City’s deep reserves of superior quality art and culture are shared freely and generously with all audiences: All for art and Art for All![/toggle]
Today, HAI is a multifaceted arts agency still dedicated to enriching the lives of culturally underserved New Yorkers through engagement with art. Each year, HAI touches the lives of more than 350,000 people in the New York City community whose access to the arts has been limited by health, age or income. HAI offers an array of arts education and wellness programs including: live performance at senior centers, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools and other health and social service settings; free and low-cost tickets to cultural events for mentally ill children and adults, seniors and the disabled; participatory arts workshops provided on-site at scores of group homes, community centers, special needs schools and after-school programs; live audio description for blind and visually impaired theater patrons; presentation of original music and dance workshops and performances at mid-to-large scale venues, such as colleges, community centers and even the High Line; and group transport on retrofitted buses accommodating large numbers of disabled and elderly passengers.
Healing Arts Initiative: Inspiring healing, growth, and learning through the arts to the culturally underserved since 1969.
HAI: Healing Arts Initiative (formerly, Hospital Audiences, Inc.) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.