Words by Turandot Yuan
Photography by Kayla Nicholson
On October 22nd, the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) Masquerade Ball and After Party, an annual benefit gala in support of the 54-year-old arts institution, was held at The Plaza Hotel in Central Park South. Celebrated individuals and patrons in the arts and education communities, along with HSA’s beloved alumni and teachers, dazzled the gala’s red carpet with beautifully tailored gowns and outfits inspired by the community’s artistic roots.
Co-hosted by Fox 5’s Lori Stokes and 9-year-old student ambassador Jayden Hairston, the gala surpassed expectations by raising over a million dollars in funds for the school’s programming and development, for the second year in a row. Throughout the night, guests were treated to a repertoire of student performances, including a song and dance rendition of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” choreographed by HSA’s very own dance teacher, Leyland Simmons. Titled “In Search of our Mother’s Gardens” after Alice Walker’s renowned Womanist Prose, the piece celebrated Black women activists, the unsung heroes in the fight for civil rights, and showcased the mastering of emotion and skill by HSA’s young performing artists.
As in previous years, the gala honored individuals who represented excellence in the arts community, including Stranger Things actor and HSA alumni Caleb McLaughlin who received the Alumni Award, and Ray Donavan actor Liev Schreiber who received the Visionary Artists Award, as well as fashion designer and FIT alumni Amsale Aberra and singer/songwriter Rachel Brown who each received the Visionary Lineage Award. Two exceptional teachers at HSA, Tsyala Khudad-Zade and Rashid Silvera, each received the Distinguished Teachers Award with highly moving acceptance speeches. A refugee from the former USSR turned piano teacher for 40 years, Khudad-Zade, or “Miss Delilah”, as her students lovingly call her, spoke of her life-changing relationship with HSA and the Harlem community.
It is a rare and wonderful occasion in arts and entertainment when hundreds of accomplished, predominantly black and brown individuals gather to celebrate, inspire, and contribute to the growth of young artists in their communities, which is why this night, made possible by HSA, proved to be exceptionally magical for each student, guest, and patron, who sang and danced their hearts out, whether onstage or on the After Party dance floor, hearts filled with dreams and joy.