Up a set of unassuming stairs on W 72nd Street is a place where you can paint your troubles away — don’t miss out on the The Paint Place, an Upper West Side art studio where everyone from local kids to Broadway stars bliss out at the canvas. The cheery, colorful second floor studio has been proudly serving the neighborhood for nine years, said owner and Upper West Sider Marci Feede, who first became inspired to open after studying art history in college. “I myself am not an artist, but I have some incredibly talented artists who teach here, ” she said. Hoping to jump on the “paint and sip” trend of the early 2010s, Marci told us that she wanted to bring the fun and interactive social activity to the neighborhood. “We had no idea what we were doing, ” laughed Marci. “We went to IKEA, bought some furniture and just decided that we were going to fake it ‘til we made it! ”Nearly a decade later, The Paint Place has proven to have staying power. Offering everything from children’s after-school classes to corporate retreats, to the classic paint and sip social hour where New Yorkers can tackle the masterworks, pop art, and everything in between, “we have had some incredible artists teach here over the years, ” said Marci. “We’re really lucky that there’s such an incredible talent pool here in New York City. ”They’ve also connected with the wider arts community, including New York’s immersive arts exhibits like the recent Monet’s Garden as well as several Broadway shows. “We hosted an event with Beetlejuice here and we had so many diehard fans! ” said Marci. “We love working with local partners and we’re always looking for more. ”Most of all, Marci takes pride in seeing preternaturally stressed-out New Yorkers get to take a breather at The Paint Place. “The best thing for me has always been how many people walk through that front door and comment on the positive energy of the space, ” said Marci. “It happens all the time. Life is hard, and we just want people to have fun. ”
The magic of Mark Rosenthal’s instruction is that he knows exactly what children are capable of and how far he should push them with their art. He admitted, “I discovered the exact difficulty of each grade. That's why this works. ” As he showed me around the Art Center, I was continually surprised by the work and the advanced skills that the children were able to exhibit. I became aware early on in my exploration that the Art Center does not just foster good technique, they "teach skills and love of the creative process. ”Mark started the Art Center nearby in 1994, but he had already been teaching in the neighborhood since 1985. He worked at the Town School, and because he was not formally trained as a teacher, he was sure to read all the books he could find on child development, teaching styles, and art in the classroom so that he could keep up with his peers. Mark spoke to me at length about Howard Garner’s idea that art should be reinstated as a discipline in schools and the Erikson theory of psychosocial development. After a few years at the Town School, Mark qualified for a sabbatical and it was then that he officially began his Art Center by renting space from other schools in the area. Like Mark, who studied painting at Cooper Union and NYU, many of the other teachers in the Art Center are professional artists. I met Paul, an illustrator, and Melissa, a sculptor. Mark explained that he tries to have teachers from a number of different disciplines in order to make classes more interesting and to provide greater range of instruction to the students. The Art Center is set apart from other schools by the fact that the classes are strictly kept to a five to one student/teacher ratio. This ensures that each student is able to receive individual instruction. The space allows two classes to happen simultaneously, with the age range from first grade up through adult. Looking at the curriculum for the different grades, Mark pointed out how the children will approach the same project from a different perspective as they get older. For example, first graders will create simple two dimensional self-portraits, but third graders are instructed on how to use shading. Though I recognized a few projects as common to most children’s art classes, I was impressed by how many unique assignments Mark has given his students and how many fascinating pieces the children are encouraged to create. Even the 3D paper mache animals, which are a staple of most school art classes, were unlike any I had seen before. “A lot of kids do these, but we like to do it on steroids, ” Mark boasted. One distinctive series I noted was a collection of Chinese paintings of toys. Mark told me that he found a book of famous Chinese toy art and thought that it would be a fun project for the kids, especially since each toy has a folk story attached to it. Some of their one-of-a-kind art projects arise out of serendipity: one year, the paint shipment did not arrive in time, so Mark created a workshop that involved coloring in different shapes. This assignment continues today. It is evident that Mark is proud of what he has created, as well he should be, with the amount of research and training that has been put into the school. “We think of it as the best art school for kids out there. That’s how I designed it, ” he said, matter-of-factly. He listed his experience in the field, his highly honed curriculum, and especially his amazing fellow instructors as the driving force behind his success. As Mark continued to flip through books of children’s work, appreciating much of it, he stopped, smiled, and announced, “The kids are what I love. ”
The greatest treasures on the side streets often take the form of art studios, theaters, non-profits, innovative exercise spaces, and specialty lodging. I was delighted, therefore, to find all of these facilities inside the West Side YMCA. According to Wyndy Wilder Sloan, the senior director of the Y, I was not unlike numerous others who admitted to having had no idea that this extraordinary building existed on West 63rd. Sharing the fascinating history of the Y with me one morning while touring the building, Wyndy simply stated that not many people stroll down their street and those that do rarely notice what has been here since 1930. Wyndy was crowed that they have at least 5, 700 active members, 397 guest rooms, an off-Broadway theater, and an art space in addition to its vast array of fitness facilities. At the start, the Y even owned the McBurney School next door, which is still marked with a sign for "BOYS. " Wyndy informed me that the West Side Y is the largest YMCA in the country. My first stop on the tour was on the newly renovated tenth and eleventh floors to see the selection of guest rooms, which Wyndy described as "a hostel that is not a real hostel. " Wyndy shared with me that guests are frequently European travelers, mostly form the UK, with the average age between eighteen and twenty-four, but national youth groups, like the boy scouts, also take advantage of the facilities. Traipsing down the white walls marked with shapes in cheery bright colors and the names of countries from around the world, I peeked into a room and found a spotlessly clean bunk bed that had a view of Central Park. Descending down some flights, I went to the fitness floors, which were astonishing. There, I found enormous studios that offered classes from Aerobics to Zumba and everything in between. Learning that the YMCA "invented" basketball and volleyball, I gazed upon the spacious court encircled one floor up by an elevated track. When I commented on the spectacular racquetball courts, squash courts, and, particularly the original machinery still decorating the walls in the boxing room, Wyndy proudly admitted that they were available for promotional shoots. In the gym, I was met with one of the most enormous collection of ellipticals and treadmills I have ever seen. "You never have to wait for a machine, " Wyndy said. "We have every piece of equipment you can imagine, " and she went on to tell me that all Y's in the country lease their machines for three years so that they can easily update to new models. Through the clean, flower-filled women's locker room, I arrived at the magnificent pool. The space is a palace, decorated with red and yellow tiles in a stunning mosaic pattern. Wyndy explained that King Alfonso of Spain donated all the tiles to the Y as the building was being erected. Slipping inside to view the smaller pool - used more for classes and therapy sessions than for laps - was possibly even more extraordinary, with dazzling white and blue designs covering all four corners. Tearing myself away from the pools, I walked into the art annex to see a painting class in progress. Down the hall, students filled a ceramics studio that boasted two kilns. I now understood from where the cases full of colorful mugs for sale in the lobby hallway came. On my way to the "Little Theater, " which sported sloping bannisters and comfortable audience seating, I caught a glimpse of rounded traditional Spanish doors and more of the magnificent tiles in an event space named the "King Alfonso" room. After a whirlwind tour, where I saw so much original architecture, artistic craftsmanship, first-class facilities, and happy members, I was shocked that I had not heard more about the building as a lifelong New Yorker. Though I knew of its existence, I had no idea of all the valuable resources and facilities inside. Wyndy conceded that is a challenge that the West Side Y is trying to overcome: "When you're a landmark building on a side street, it's hard to maintain visibility. " It is, however, definitely worth seeking out. As Wyndy noted, "We are unique among other gyms because we are non-profit. When you sign up as a member, you know your money is going to a good cause. "