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New Work: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts

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Tony Bennett is known for his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but his favorite place is actually Astoria, Queens, where he was born 84 years ago this week. (Happy Birthday, Tony!) As a gift to his old neighborhood, Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto, a former public school teacher, established in 2001 the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a New York City public high school with programs in vocal and instrumental music, drama, dance, film and fine arts. (In addition to possessing legendary voice, Bennett is an accomplished painter.) The school is named in homage to Bennett’s friend, Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.

Originally located in a shared space in Long Island City, the school opened its own new five-story building in Astoria last fall. The school is adjacent to the Kaufman Astoria Studios and the Museum of the Moving Image at the intersection of 35th Avenue and 36th Street and has helped transform the neighborhood into a bustling arts district in the heart of Astoria. Designed by Susan Rodriguez of Ennead Architects, and funded by the New York City School Construction Authority, the state-of-the-art building includes a concert hall, black box theaters, dance studios, recording studio, media center and a rooftop courtyard for outdoor performances.

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Pentagram’s signage for the school has been set in the typeface Zapata, inspired by the typography on the Sinatra album covers of the 1950s. Supergraphics identifying various departments like Art, Music and Dance are installed outside studio classrooms. A frit pattern in the windows of the building’s facade consists of the names of over 1,300 artists—from Diego Rivera and Django Reinhardt to Tina Turner and Johnny Depp. Throughout the building, the jaunty graphics invite the students to aspire to the artistry and dedication of the school’s namesake and other popular entertainers. To paraphrase one of the Chairman of the Board’s most enduring anthems, “New York, New York”: if students can make it here, they can make it anywhere.

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Project Team: Michael Bierut, partner-in-charge and designer; Tracey Cameron, associate and designer; Josh Berta and Sash Fernando, designers.