Kaufman Music Center was founded by Dr. Tzipora H. Jochsberger in 1952 as a community school for pre-conservatory music training. Originally called The Hebrew Arts School for Music and Dance (HAS), the school soon became a vital part of the community and grew to attract people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.
Two decades later, HAS had grown to capacity and was ready for expansion––both physically and programmatically––and noted Modernist architect Ashok Bhavnani was commissioned to design the award-winning Abraham Goodman House, which was opened to the public in 1978. When it was first built, the Goodman House won the prestigious Bard Award for its unique architectural design and efficiency. It was one of the few cultural facilities of note to have been completed in New York during the city’s fiscal crisis, making it a rare example of New York Modernist architecture from that period.
Bhavnani’s design included a 450-seat concert hall for student and professional performances. The venue would be known as Merkin Concert Hall, and it rapidly gained its reputation as a stellar performance space in New York City.
During the early 1980s, the HAS benefited from a large influx of Jewish émigrés leaving the Soviet Union and arriving in New York City. Many music instructors were not allowed to take their credentials with them when they left, and having a difficult time finding equivalent positions in the United States, found a home at the Hebrew Arts School. Their former students came to the HAS to study, and the school made scholarships available for these students.
Dr. Jochsberger retired in 1986 and was succeeded by Lydia Kontos, who is still currently the Executive Director of Kaufman Music Center. 1991 the organization was re-named the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center in recognition of a major gift by Elaine and Henry Kaufman. At that time the Hebrew Arts School was re-named Lucy Moses School.
In 1996 Kaufman Music Center opened Special Music School (P.S. 859), New York's only K-8 public school for musically-gifted children—and a leading music education innovator. A unique public/private partnership between Kaufman Music Center and the New York City Department of Education, the school combines intensive instrumental instruction with a rigorous academic program.
In 2007, renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern led a major renovation of Merkin Concert Hall and the building's facade.
In 2013, Kaufman Music Center opened Special Music School High School, expanding the school through grade 12. In 2017 its first graduating class of seniors had a 100% graduation rate and 100% college acceptance rate.
Today, more than 75,000 music and arts lovers visit Kaufman Music Center annually.