Arts Academy students lament conditions, seek redress from city

Earlier this week students attending Boston Arts Academy (BAA) from Dorchester and from across the rest of the city, with support from their parents, seized “a learning and leadership opportunity” when they personally pleaded with city officials to correct the long-standing deplorable conditions at their high school.

This past Monday, BAA Family Council and students delivered a petition with more than 800 signatures (and growing online daily), requesting that Mayor Menino, Superintendent Carol Johnson and Chief of Properties Mike Galvin honor their previous commitment to provide BAA with  the safe and appropriate facility required of  a visual and performing arts high school. The group also presented the same petition at last Wednesday’s Boston School Committee meeting.

The BAA is seen by some as the Hub’s answer to the Big Apple’s performing arts high school that was featured in the 1980 movie “Fame.” The roster of New York’s LaGuardia alumni includes entertainment superstars like Jennifer Aniston, Robert deNiro, Laurence Fishburne, Nicki Minaj, Al Pacino, Wesley Snipes, and Ben Vereen. The BAA alumni roster—not so much.

To explain the difference, Boston parents contend that the BAA space constraints and physical facilities are far below those at an ordinary school, much less one dedicated to the performing and visual arts. Unbelievable as it sounds, the school has no auditorium.

According to a BAA Family Council press release, in 1998 the BAA was assigned a converted post office building at 174 Ipswich St. near Fenway Park as a temporary home.  Only minimal improvements were made to the building as it was not considered a permanent option.

Since then, the BAA community has spent significant time and money assessing more than 45 preferable sites in the city. Nevertheless, they reluctantly agreed last year to keep BAA on Ipswich Street, relying on assurances that the Boston Public Schools would advocate for the BAA to receive Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) renovation funding.

However, in December, the MSBA rejected the BPS’s Statement of Interest, noting that “BAA’s renovation is not perceived to be a priority for Boston.”

Most classrooms in the former post office building have no windows or natural light. And more than 90 percent of the BAA core academic classrooms and arts areas do not meet the MSBA’s minimum space requirements. In addition, the school’s science labs don’t meet minimum safety requirements.

Visual Arts students are using a converted kiln room as a classroom that seats no more than 8 students, creating a situation where students are taking turns being able to sit. Other classes are conducted in storage and office spaces. Sometimes classes take place in hallways and closets.

The lack of an auditorium or other performance space significantly limits the faculty’s ability to prepare graduates for collegiate and professional careers in the performing arts.

One parent mentioned that BAA students had to rent space at Emerson College to do their annual musical, but could only afford to do so for two nights. Even though the city sometimes makes places like the Strand Theatre in Uphams Corner available at little or no cost, BAA faculty feel that high school students need to be able to rehearse in the same space in which they will perform.

Parents are encouraging all concerned parents and arts appreciators to sign their on-line petition (signon.org/sign/guarantee-renovations). They hope to shame city officials into changeing their stepchild status into a Cinderella story.