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52nd Street Project

About the Project

The 52nd Street Project (The Project) is a non-profit arts education and mentoring organization dedicated to the young people (ages 9 – 18) who live in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. By collaborating with professional theater artists who volunteer their time and talent, the Project is able to offer year-round programming that is free for the participants.

The young people start with Playmaking, which teaches the basics of creating original work for the theater. At the end of the course, their new plays are presented free to the general public.

After Playmaking, all of the other Project programming becomes available, including arts expansion and theatrical performance, as well as academic mentoring programs. The Project offers employment opportunities to the teens, and a modest scholarship for any Project member continuing their education past high school.

Because all programs and productions are free, The Project relies on donations from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies.

For further information, or direct inquiries, contact us.

Kids appearing behind the 52nd Street Project building with a starburst in the background

Our Mission

The mission of The 52nd Street Project, a community-based arts organization, is to bring together kids from Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, starting at age nine and lasting through their teens, with theater professionals to create original theater offered free to the general public. By building on the core experience of accomplishment and collaboration, the Project fosters a sense of inclusion in a place where the children belong and where their creative work is the driving force. Through long-term mentoring relationships and exposure to diverse art forms (including Poetry, Photography, Theatrical Design, Dance, and Filmmaking), the Project seeks to expand the children’s means of expression and to improve their literacy, their life skills and their attitude towards learning.

Our History

The Project was founded in 1981 by actor/playwright Willie Reale in response to a deepening need to improve the quality of life for the kids of Hell’s Kitchen. He used his privileges as a company member of Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) to reach out to the children of the neighborhood by creating theatrical endeavors specifically for them. This was done with the cooperation and support of EST and its across-the-street-neighbor, the Police Athletic League’s Duncan Center. In 1994, Mr. Reale was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (informally known as “the genius grant”) for creating The 52nd Street Project.

For its first fifteen years, the Project relied on borrowed spaces in which to implement its programs. In 1996, the Project established The Clubhouse, a center where children could come after school. This led to the creation of our academic mentoring program Smart Partners in 1997. In 1998, the Project received the inaugural Coming Up Taller Award (so named after a quote from Founder Willie Reale) from the NEA and President’s Committee on the Arts. In 2010, the Project opened its current facility, which includes, for the first time in its history, its very own theater (Five Angels Theater) dedicated to the work of the kids of the neighborhood.

Past artist/volunteers have included Rose Byrne, Bill Camp, Bobby Cannavale, Zoe Chao, David Costabile, Billy Crudup, Crystal Dickinson, Peter Dinklage, Brandon Dirden, Edie Falco, Ray Fisher, Jim Gaffigan, Nancy Giles, Jonathan Groff, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Judy Kuhn, Kathleen Madigan, Roma Maffia, Mozhan Marnó, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Frances McDormand, Adrienne C. Moore, Michael Potts, Theresa Rebeck, Lili Taylor, Jessica Williams, Frank Wood and hundreds of others. Many return regularly, as they find the experience fulfilling and artistically stimulating.

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Meet Our Staff

Associate Artistic Director

Kat Almirañez

Kat Almirañez
Music Director

Avi A. Amon

Avi A. Amon
Development Director

Ahmed Attia

Director of Design & Production

George Babiak

George Babiak
Clinical Consultant

Liz Bell

Liz Bell
Marketing & Events Manager

Ana Gonzalez-Soto

Ana Gonzalez-Soto
Artistic Director

Natalie Hirsch

Natalie Hirsch
Program Director

Garrett Kim

Garrett Kim
Executive Director

Carol Ochs

Carol Ochs
Director of Institutional Advancement

John Sheehy

John Sheehy
Director of Education

Johanna Vidal

Johanna Vidal
Education Associate

Caylyn Wan-Creager

Caylyn Wan-Creager
Production Manager

Brianna Weintraub

Brianna Weintraub
Operations Manager

Yazzy Wilder

Our Board

Lisa Benavides-Nelson, volunteer

Rachel Chanoff, curator/producer, Director, The Office, performing arts and film

Cathy Dantchik (co-chair), Reade St. Productions

Carolyn C. DeSena, founder, WEforum Group

Louis P. Friedman (co-chair), Managing Partner, Flexis Capital LLC

Robert Goldberg, President, Yorke Construction

Stephen Graham (chairperson emeritus), Visiting Assistant Professor of Literature, Bard College

Annie Hausmann, Council President, Norwood, NJ; philanthropist; advocate

Natalie Hirsch, Artistic Director, The 52nd Street Project

Korey Jackson, actor, director, writer, and producer

Valerie Kay, Senior Vice President, Lending Club

Micah Kroeze, Chief Product Officer, Options Technology

Noël Mihalow (secretary), President, Prime Films

Carol Ochs, Executive Director, The 52nd Street Project

Margaret Odette, actor

Willie Reale, founder, The 52nd Street Project; writer, producer

Shirley Rumierk, actor, Project alum

José Soto, actor, Project alum

Wendy vanden Heuvel, actor, producer; piece by piece productions

Alexandra Vassilaros, writer, founder of Make Meaning Workshop, President of Vassilaros Coffee 2015-2023

Mark Whatley (treasurer), Senior Managing Director, Evercore

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Our Supporters

The 52nd Street Project is proud to have merited the support of the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York Legislature; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City CouncilThe Project is a member of ART/NY.

The 52nd Street Project also gratefully acknowledges the support of the following foundations and corporations:

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Bank of America

Bulls Head Foundation, Inc.

Cantor Fitzgerald

Carol M. & Stephen E. Canter Family Foundation

Consolidated Edison

Department of Cultural Affairs


Flagstar Bank/Signature Bank

Flexis Capital

Frederick Loewe Foundation

Maxine and Irving Castle Foundation

Morgan Stanley

National Endowment for the Arts

New York State Council on the Arts

Jeffrey Seller Family Foundation

P.S. 111 Adolph S. Ochs

Susquehanna Foundation, Corp.

The Henlopen Foundation

The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation

The Shubert Foundation

Tiger Baron Foundation


Yorke Construction Corp.

Our Policies


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Health & Safety

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Returns, Refunds & Calculations

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