How Did the Young People's Chorus of NYC Score $1 Million for Their New Digs?

The Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to the Young People's Chorus of New York City in support of its efforts to secure a permanent home. It's good news for the organization and aspiring young musicians across the city, as the Young People's Chorus provides music education and after-school tutoring for about fourteen hundred New York City middle and high school students.

This news also underscores a potentially disruptive question that nonetheless needs to be asked and the Young People's Chorus had to answer: Why do they need a new home? It's a question countless organizations have to convincingly answer because, let's face it, money is finite and one could argue that $1 million could be better spent for expanded programming, operational support, teacher raises, etc.

Let's first look at how other organizations addressed this common challenge. Take the Muskogee Little Theatre in Oklahoma, for example. It's a far cry from New York City, yet this theater faced a similar problem. The theatre had outgrown its facilities and is hanging its hopes on a new $6.5 million performing arts center near downtown Muskogee. In this case, the theatre could argue that a new center would help support downtown revitalization efforts. The Young People's Chorus, situated in Manhattan, couldn't really make that same claim.

Then there's the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. It received a $250,000 grant to help repair its building, which was, quite literally, falling apart. A noble goal, but once again, a situation that doesn't apply to the Young People's Chorus, which had been renting rehearsal space across the city since its founding 26 years ago. The Young People's Chorus simply lacked a permanent space and they made the case to the Eichholz Foundation that they needed one. The Chorus will now lease and renovate a permanent home near Lincoln Center.

So how did they do it? First, they created and maintained a world-class music education organization. Alexa Suskin, who heads the foundation, noted, "I think their model is one that is inspiring and they really empower the kids and engage them in ways that I don't see happening in many other organizations that work with children." In other words, foundations won't put up the money for a new space unless the organization exhibits a flair for innovative programming and sound financial stewardship.

Secondly, from an abstract perspective, common sense demands that after 26 years, an organization of this caliber deserved a permanent space. The new state-of-the-art facility will have large rehearsal spaces, lounges, recording studios, rooms for tutoring, and space for the organization's college readiness program and administrative offices. It's the same logic behind why your accountant has a fancy office — you, as a potential client, would be far less impressed if he were operating out of his basement. In short, perceptions do matter.

Lastly — and it's just conjecture at this point — there may have been a compelling financial argument at play. The organization has been renting out spaces for the past quarter-century. This all adds up. Consider the time it takes to locate spaces, negotiate rent, and arrange for transportation to various locales. We're not saying the lease on the new space is cheap, but the organization's staff can probably breathe a sigh of relief as their administrative burden will inevitably be lessened.