Arts Club honors its old adversary

Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, was recognized for her years of community service at the National Arts Club’s 120th anniversary gala. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images North America)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

In an event no one in the neighborhood could have foreseen sans a crystal ball just a decade ago, the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park honored Gramercy Park Block Association President Arlene Harrison at the club’s 120th anniversary gala.

While Harrison and the club have enjoyed a positive working relationship in recent years, she was actively involved in investigations that resulted in the ousting of the club’s former president, O. Aldon James, for misusing the club’s funds and real estate.

Arthur Barnes, chairman of the gala held on Saturday, November 3 and a member of the club’s board of governors, said that the awards were specifically in recognition of community service and the award for Harrison was due to her long-standing relationship with the club and Gramercy Park.

“She’s a tremendously effective advocate of Gramercy Park,” Barnes said. “She’s been a member of the club for many years and we wanted to recognize her leadership within our community, including with the 13th Precinct only two blocks away, and with Brotherhood Synagogue and Calvary Church.”

Harrison has worked with another event honoree, historian Eugene Weise, on preservation in Gramercy Park with the club in the past and although that work was previously disrupted due to the contentious relationship between James and the GPBA, Harrison said that she was glad to be back now.

“This was a big return home for us,” she said.

James was ultimately ousted in 2012 after it was discovered that he had reportedly been running the nonprofit club for his own benefit for more than two decades, hoarding art and junk in the club and renting out the spaces at below-market rates to associates.

Harrison noted that she and Weise worked together at the club on the House Committee in the 1990s and early 2000s and said that she is committed to continuing that work.

“A major focus of mine is preserving Gramercy Park and the historic nature of the surrounding neighborhood, this 1845 Tilden Mansion being a part of that,” Harrison said at the gala. “It is up to all of us now to protect the legacy of the National Arts Club, while pushing forward so that we may pass this treasure on to the next generation.”

At the anniversary event, the club also honored artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, who has completed seven official presidential portraits and has maintained his studio at the National Arts Club since 1947.

Ahead of the event, Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the club’s anniversary in a prepared statement.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I join in congratulating your distinguished honorees: Arlene Harrison, Everett Raymond Kinstler and Dr. Eugene Weise,” Cuomo said. “Their commitment to and support of the arts in New York State and across our nation is truly commendable and a meaningful cause for celebration.”

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