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Larry Zukof may have retired as executive director of the acclaimed Neighborhood Music School (NMS), but he's not retiring from his involvement in the arts.
"I still intend to be involved in music and the arts, perhaps do some teaching, etc." Larry says. "But I'll do it at my pace, on my time.
"It is time for me to take some space for me personally and my family," says Larry, who lives in North Guilford with his wife, Pamela. "We have a daughter and two granddaughters who live in Indiana. We also have family on the West Coast. I'm looking forward to some relaxing and traveling."
You can't blame Larry for wanting to chill out a bit. After 30 years of running music schools, the last 18 running the NMS, he has earned some down time.
"Don't get me wrong," says Larry. "I loved running the music school, but it was a lot of work, a lot of time."
Larry came to NMS in the summer of 1996 from Brookline (Massachusetts) Music School, for which he had served as executive director for 12 years.
During Larry's tenure, NMS ran off some impressive accomplishments, including becoming one of the 10 largest community arts organizations in the country. The school has a 30,000-square-foot facility in New Haven; offices in Guilford, Madison, and Woodbridge; and has a student body of close to 3,000 children and adults.
In Guilford, the music school began offering programming in 1979 and still does, at its original location at the First Congregational Church on the Green. It also offers early childhood programming at the Nathanael B. Greene Community Center.
In Madison, the school offers an early childhood program at the First Congregational Church. Larry says there's a strong possibility that the school will soon have some programs at the old Academy School in Madison.
The school's mission statement reads, simply: "To provide the highest quality instruction in music and dance and to make it accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, economic means, and levels of ability."
During Larry's tenure as executive director, NMS's budget has tripled to $4.5 million; it is the largest non-profit arts education institution in Connecticut and one of the largest in the nation. In 2011-'12, NMS celebrated its centennial with a yearlong schedule of events and special performances.
"I feel I am leaving at a good time, in that programming and funding is on very firm footing," says Larry. "Things are much more stabilized than the old days."
That's an understatement. The list of accomplishments that NMS has achieved under Larry's tenure is long-and impressive.
The school has received major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Community Foundation of Great New Haven, the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, and many others to support access to NMS programming for low-income youth from across the region. Eighteen advanced students participated in the White House Community Classroom Music Series in 2009, an event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama that included 120 students from across the U.S. The NMS students were the only participants from Connecticut.
The City Initiative, an in-depth partnership with New Haven Public Schools, strengthens school music programs by providing tuition-free individual lessons and ensemble opportunities to students at partner schools. In May, the City Initiative was named a finalist for a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its partner agencies. Financial aid and scholarships, at $30,000 in 1996, have grown to more than $200,000, reaching 250 individuals today.
Larry's reign as executive director was recently celebrated at a retirement party attended by 300 and at which a proclamation from Governor Dannel Malloy, exalting Larry, was read.
Besides doing some teaching and visiting family and the grandkids with his wife, Larry also has one other priority he wants to tend to during retirement.
"I'm looking forward to spending some serious quality time gardening at our home with my wife," says Larry.