“I love 92Y and I love my job,” said Ava Lehrer, director of the 92nd Street Y’s Center for Arts Learning and Leadership. “It’s a huge privilege and honor to work there.”
The 92nd Street Y, commonly known as 92Y, and located at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side, is billed as “a world-class nonprofit community and cultural center that connects people at every stage of life to the worlds of education, the arts, health and wellness, and Jewish life.” Created more than 140 years ago, close to 300,000 adults and children now participate in some form of in-person activity at the center each year.
Lehrer’s delight in her now 10-year-long career at the 92Y stems, in many ways, from being in a space that allows her to focus on some of the things that are closest to her heart: literature, music and arts education. She holds a B.A. in Literature and Creative Written Arts from Bard College and a Master’s in Education from Touro College.
“I love poetry and have a background in the creative written arts and languages, so I had attended literary readings at 92Y before I applied to work here,” she said. “I recall one reading in particular when I thought ‘this is just a magical place.’”
Growing up attending public schools in Brooklyn, Lehrer said she benefited greatly from access to arts education programs. This she said was important to help her engage with school – connecting with and bonding with students from all over the city and all walks of life. She was involved in music performances during her years at Edward R. Murrow High School in Midwood, Brooklyn where her main instrument was the clarinet.
“I played all throughout high school and made lifelong friends,” she said. She played in many different bands including pit bands, all kinds of ensembles, and also in citywide bands with students from different high schools.
“I had such a really positive experience in public schools in New York City in large part I think, because of the arts education programming that was available,” Lehrer said. “And that’s something I feel is so important to keep very much alive in the schools.”
And that is exactly what she does in her current role as director in the Arts Learning and Leadership center.
“I oversee the 92Y’s art education program for schools, [where] we create a whole range of programs, many of them take place in the regular school day in classrooms across New York City.” And the reach is vast, across the five boroughs in K-12 schools “anywhere between 10,000 to 15,000 students participate in a given school year,” she said. Many of the programs have now been expanded nationwide digitally as a response to the pandemic, further widening the scope of students who benefit from arts education.
In addition to in-school programs with teaching artists, students are invited to 92Y for live events – concerts, dance performances, poetry readings – where they meet with celebrated and renowned artists and thinkers, and often have a chance to have a conversation with them. This, Lehrer says, helps the students to get an insight into these artists’ lives.
She has also designed 92Y’s pillar creative youth development initiatives, including the Young Leaders Series and the Teen Producers internship program.
On its website, the 92nd Street Y says, “There is no other place like 92Y.” Lehrer would agree.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to work in a place where you’ll walk into the building and there’ll be babies with first time parents, to seniors – and all the ages between,” she said. “It’s the full scope of life, and that’s very unusual to have in your work environment.”
In fact, the magnet that is the 92 Y influences some seniors’ retirement plans. “I know some people who after they retire, would actually move nearby because they know that everything they need will be within this space,” she said.
Lehrer and her husband Bernard and their two young daughters also live in the neighborhood, in Yorkville, close to work.
“I had attended literary readings at 92Y before I applied to work here. I recall one reading in particular when I thought ‘this is just a magical place.’” Ava Lehrer, director of 92Y’s Center for Arts Learning and Leadership