Josh Ufberg spreads the value of art

June 01, 2011  

Josh Ufberg of Atalaya says the Urban Arts Partnership boosts learning in other areas

By Danielle Beurteaux

Josh Ufberg: I was lucky enough to have access to arts programs like this growing up
When Josh Ufberg sits in the audience at Urban Arts Partnership’s annual Urban Arts Festival and watches kids perform, he sees the value of arts education come to life.

"You really see how these young people are affected by what the organization has been able to do," he says.

Ufberg, 37, principal at the New York firm Atalaya Capital Management, a $500 million credit fund, joined the board of Urban Arts in 2006 and is on the organization’s Finance Committee and Development Committee. While he says he plays the guitar "very poorly," he did experience the benefit of arts education when he was in school. "I was lucky enough to have access to arts programs like this growing up."

Urban Arts Partnership offers a full range of arts programs to New York middle and high school students, including theater, filmmaking, dance and photography, which are integrated into the teaching curriculum. The organization has partnered with 60 schools this year. One program, Fresh Prep, uses music to help students prepare for the New York State Regents Exams, and pass rates for students in the program have increased considerably. "If you can show that Urban Arts is improving educational results for the city, there is real quantifiable value and an undeniable continued need for its existence," says Ufberg.

As arts education budgets shrink and many schools are left without arts programs, Urban Arts fills the gap. "Interweaving arts education into the curriculum helps students perform better in school, but it also provides them with an outlet before or after school to focus on something that is substantive, that is creative and that is useful for life," says Ufberg. Urban Arts Partnership began as Working Playground, a youth theater company founded in 1991 in response to the Crown Heights riots. The name was changed in 2008, and the group has experienced astronomical growth, from a $300,000 budget in 2003 to $4.3 million for the current year.

In July, the organization is opening a new space in New York’s Chinatown with better facilities, says Ufberg. "Another great aspect of Urban Arts is that it provides at-risk kids with a place to spend time," he says.

Urban Arts’ best-known event is the 24 Hour Plays on Broadway, an annual theater program and fundraiser cochaired by artistic board chair Rosie Perez. The writers, directors and actors have 24 hours in which to create, write, rehearse and perform a 10-minute play, and some of the biggest names in theater and Hollywood have participated. "It’s taken on a life of its own," says Ufberg.

Executive director Philip Courtney says Ufberg has been a major force behind the group’s fundraising and annual plans and helping to organize the group’s investments. "Josh has definitely been one of the key board members pushing the organization forward in the past few years," says Courtney. "He’s an absolutely lovely person, incredibly easygoing and just a joy to work with."

Ufberg says that the value of Urban Arts stays with kids for life. "You see kids come back year after year, and you see what a big part of their life the organization has become," he says.

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