History & Founders
Home / About Us / History & Founders

Sometimes a revolutionary idea is a simple one.

In the mid-1960s, Dr. Maurice B. Hexter, the executive vice president of Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, was captivated by a singular concept: arts education in a camp setting, where fun, creativity, and learning intermingle freely in the beautiful outdoors. He and Andrew McKinley, a musician and renowned concert artist, opera singer, and member of Juilliard’s faculty, enlisted the partnership of philanthropist Samuel Lemberg, who provided initial funding for the project, and named it after his beloved daughter Suzanne Usdan. The Nathaniel and Suzanne Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts (currently known as Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts) was born.

To bring their vision to fruition, Dr. Hexter and Mr. Lemberg enlisted an impressive committee of artists and educators, including Mr. McKinley, the camp’s founding executive director, and Dr. Jerrold Ross, the chairman of the Department of Music Education at New York University, who was appointed Usdan’s education director. Together, this impressive team attracted a phenomenal faculty of prominent artists and teachers from the country’s leading conservatories and universities—a tradition that continues to this day.

In the inaugural summer season, in 1968, one thousand New York–area children descended upon Huntington, Long Island, for the very first, of many, extraordinary summers at Usdan. It was a stunning success, and set the stage for Usdan to become a veritable New York arts institution.

Mr. McKinley continued to serve as executive director until his retirement in 1983, when he was succeeded by Dale Lewis. Mr. Lewis served the camp for 32 incredible years, stepping down in 2015. He was succeeded by Usdan’s current executive director, Lauren Brandt Schloss.

Usdan’s original curriculum included music, art, dance, and theater, but as arts education has evolved, so too has Usdan. A multitude of new programs have been added to expand students’ horizons, and offer new opportunities that resonate beyond a traditional arts education. Other initiatives, such as the Discovery early education program, internships, and a work-study program, have brought more young people—and more new talent and diversity—to Usdan’s campus.

Usdan is also home to public events and community gatherings for lifelong learners, including the popular adult “day at camp,” Usdan University. Usdan’s remarkable contribution to New York’s art scene, carried on by nearly 50 years of alumni and patrons, is just part of what makes this such a dynamic and proud organization.