Ensemble's drawing class gives homeless kids a summer of art


When it comes to home security, some families face daily uncertainty, especially the families of the Broadway Family Plaza.

Better known as 5731 Broadway and home to a transitional housing facility setup by the city’s homeless services department, many of the children from those 82 families are able to enjoy a respite thanks to a weekly arts class hosted by the Bronx Arts Ensemble.

A recent drawing class, for example, met on four Friday afternoons over the summer, attracting between 20 and 30 kids instructed by longtime art teacher Carolina Diaz.

It’s one of a number of programs maintained at the facility, joining others outside the ensemble that includes other opportunities — especially for adults — like pursuing GEDs while searching for permanent housing on their own.

The ensemble first became interested in the Broadway facility prior to its opening last year, collaborating with local volunteer group Welcoming Neighbors, who have spent a lot of time working with the families at the facility.

Ivan Braun, an organizer for Welcoming Neighbors, noticed some families coming in were having a hard time adjusting, and turned to ensemble executive director David Nussenbaum to help.

“He suggested that Bronx Arts Ensemble, given our skill set, could add value,” Nussenbaum said.

Through the ensemble, Nussenbaum has shared art with the larger Bronx community and recognizes the ways an art program can add to a child’s life.

“There are academic benefits to the arts — the self-discipline, the focus — there are very collaborative art forms,” Nussenbaum said. “All these things help build the whole child and help them develop as people and make them well-rounded, aside from the basic enrichment of making art.”

Throughout his time observing the kids at work, Nussenbaum noted their engagement and enthusiasm students brought to the classroom, showing off their art with pride and charm.

The arts program helps the center’s residents, but it also can have benefits outside the walls as well — especially by working to de-stigmatize homelessness, Nussenbaum said.

“The longer term objective — members of the community will feel comfortable coming to an event where we open our doors not just to the residents but to the community,” said Nussenbaum, who hopes that Bronx Arts Ensemble will put on more programming at the Broadway Family Plaza for all. He believes the drawing class serves as an introduction and the first step to achieving that goal.

Braun shares similar ambitions for the class as well.

“We are here to help Broadway Family Plaza and the residents of Broadway Family Plaza feel welcome in the neighborhood,” he said, “and to provide whatever support we can.

“This is an example of how the community can help the families while they are in the transitional time and needing a place to call home. By the community being supportive of the Broadway Family Plaza, we can certainly help the kids and stabilize the family so that they are ready to move into permanent housing when the opportunity arises.”