The Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation was founded in 1993 to bolster the art and academic programs at the internationally recognized Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. Funds raised by the foundation provide curriculum enhancements that cannot be funded through Palm Beach County’s school district.
“The foundation fundraises annually to be able to pay for artists-in-residence (artists who live in Palm Beach County),” says Dr. Chris Snyder, the foundation’s executive director. “These artists work directly for the school on a part-time basis and the foundation funds anywhere from 10 to 20 of these artists per year.” He adds that the school also recruits major artists from all over the state as well as around the world to come and work directly with their students.
The school was named after Alexander Dreyfoos in 1997 after he donated $1 million to support the county’s public arts magnet high school. Snyder says it is one of the few schools named after someone who is still living.
He explains that for the foundation to fulfill its mission, “funding is critical” to help students at all levels with everything from music lessons and other types of tutoring, even SAT prep for students, regardless of their ability to pay. Funding more than $60,000 per year in just art supplies alone, Snyder says the school itself is “reliant on the foundation,” and in any given year, the foundation provides anywhere from $1 million to $2 million in funding to not only provide school-related supplies but also to pay for building renovations, including studios for various communications programs.
“The school is very old — we have four historic buildings that date to around 1908,” Snyder notes, adding that the school was first simply a Palm Beach County school that morphed into an art school. However, unlike some arts-only schools, Dreyfoos offers a variety of programs such as visual arts, digital arts, photography, TV production, music, musical theater, dance, communications, and even athletics.
Snyder says that Dreyfoos’s ethnically diverse student body of more than 1,400 comprises some truly gifted students who are not only talented artists but also accomplished in academics. Standout students include 2019 spotlight Danielle Smith, a singer who in elementary school started belting out folk songs, classical music and Broadway tunes. She competed at the Heritage Festival in Boston and New York with the Bak Girls Chorus and again in Chicago with Dreyfoos. After completing her studies at the University of Florida, she plans to pursue a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon, following in her mother’s footsteps in the medical field.
Piano senior Daniel Wang’s impressive academic record led to his being named a Dreyfoos’ 2021 nominee for the Academic Excellence Pathfinder award, a 2021 National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, and earning a perfect composite score on the ACT. After Dreyfoos, Wang has plans to continue playing piano while studying biological science. Commenting on his experiences, Wang says, “I think (being at Dreyfoos) has really opened my eyes and helped me meet a lot of different people and (see) different perspectives. It’s very egalitarian. Some people might think that Dreyfoos is competitive, but it’s not — people are very supportive of each other. That’s something that’s really shaped me as a person.”
Students of the school must reside in the county, since Dreyfoos is a public school. And potential school candidates must go through an audition process. “Our diverse demographics include the wealthiest and the poorest of students,” Snyder notes. “The foundation’s job is to create equal footing for all students.”
Every year, Snyder says he works with donors and noted philanthropists from around the county. He adds that Palm Beach has several high-net-worth individuals residing in its borders, including Bill Gates, Howard Stern, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and others. “I would love to get some of these folks to come to the school and talk with students,” he says.
Among the school’s various needs are musical instruments such as trumpets, violins and pianos. “The district doesn’t have many to give, and we currently have about $300,000 worth of instruments we need,” Snyder explains.
“We can help take kids to the next level,” he continues, adding that the school is “number one in the county,” and ranks higher than even the county’s STEM school. “Our students aren’t just brilliant in arts but also in overall academics.” According to Snyder, out of 18,000 high schools in the country, Dreyfoos ranks 109.
Snyder also notes that some of the school’s students have gone on to win Grammy and Emmy awards. Several of the school’s alumni have even made it to Broadway in shows such as Little Shop of Horrors and Hamilton.
Calling the Dreyfoos school a “special place,” Snyder emphasizes that because the school is public, they need to fundraise. “Budgets are tight around the country and fundraising is especially important now given the lack of arts funding.” He adds, “We want to get the word out so more philanthropists will know about the school and maybe lend a hand.”
The Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023 and a major event is being planned at the Norton Museum. For updates and more information, visit soafi.org.