Church Street School founder will step down this summer

Photo by Claudine Williams

Lisa Ecklund-Flores, whose school — the Church Street School for Music and Art — has been a fixture in Tribeca for three decades, will step down as executive director at the end of the summer. I don’t think I have to point out that this is huge news. She has left an incredible legacy here, one that started, as the best things do, with a good idea and a lot of passion, and grew with the neighborhood.

She also guided the school through this last blow — a global pandemic — and it is a testament to her staff, as well as her students and their parents, that they have been able to retain much of their enrollment. But still, it has been an exhausting time, as it has for so many.

“There’s a reason we are only down 20 percent — it’s this community, it feels like family, and we have shared so much and there are so many connections among us,” Lisa said. She had already decided three years ago, when the school moved to its (third) location on White Street into the old Flea Theater, that it was time to shift her priorities. The pandemic pushed the decision along, plus she turned 65 on Saturday.

She will definitely keep teaching. “I want to reclaim that joy that made me want to do this in the beginning. The last 20 years has been a huge responsibility, and I wanted to step away from that.”

The school’s board has engaged a search firm and will spend the next several months looking for a replacement.

The school was founded in 1990 by Lisa and Lauri Bailey, who at the time were both teaching at Greenwich Street Music School in the West Village. “We had a vastly successful program—kids were lining up for the summer classes. We were young and felt underappreciated, so we impetuously decided to start our own school. We didn’t know anything about how to do it! There was no business plan,” she told the TC in a Spotlight feature in 2016.

The pair chose Tribeca because there was nothing yet down here for kids (if you can picture that) and found a second-floor space at 311 Church at Walker. They opened in September 1990 with 150 students, one art room and one music room. It was an instant hit.

The program would continue to grow, pushing them out of each successive space in the neighborhood. In 1996, they moved to the ground floor at 74 Warren, where they could expand to include instrumental studios; in 2004 they expanded again to the basement of that building; by 2009 they pushed into 72 Warren. But in 2017 their rent had become a burden (“Did you know that none of the other non-profit arts schools in the city pay rent? They were gifted or bought or included in a new development.”) and the school moved in 2017 to 41 White.

Over the years, Lisa — who holds a teachers license from the Dalcroze School of Music, and teaches largely in that whole body method — found time to do just a few other things too. She finished her master’s at Hunter as she founded the school and got her PhD in developmental psychology from CUNY a few years later, in 1995. She was an educational consultant for “Blue’s Clues” and is also a professor at Mercy College and a research scientist at New York State Psychiatric Institute. Her daughter, Isis, is now 24 and finishing her master’s in mental health counseling.

For her next act, Lisa plans to develop a teacher training program so she can pass on the lessons she’s learned running an arts school over 30 years — “and put it into brains that are younger than mine!” She has developed a staff of teaching artists at Church Street — all working musicians and artists — whose goal is to facilitate and foster creative expression; her hope is to run workshops with them to start, and see where it goes from there.

And she will keep her current classes — toddler music and art, Dalcroze Eurythmics, the senior citizens chorus and piano lessons. That’s always been the most satisfying part of the job for her.

“I never want to stop teaching,” she says. “It’s the reason I made the school! There’s such a great feeling you get when you realize you have the potential, the capacity to create music unique to you.”



  1. I think when they first went to Church Street School for Music & Art it was across from the Roxy Hotel, Church and Walker. Than they moved to down here on Warren Street. My two kids now in their mid twenties went twice a week! Lisa and Lauri were wonderful. I still have art saved from my kids from Church Street! Summer programs were fantastic too. One of the best things I did for my children! Good Luck Lisa ! You will be missed!

  2. I’m not sure of another Tribeca institution that’s has brought as much joy to our family as The Church Street School! My kids blossomed at all of the classes and activities they participated in and we haven’t missed a gingerbread house workshop in 20 years! While we couldn’t participate in person this year, we purchased one to-go and continued the tradition at home. Here’s I can’t thank Lisa enough for creating such a joyous institution!