Two parks in Queens just got a little bit brighter.
The students of the Walter Reed School, PS 9, in Maspeth and the Robert E. Peary School, PS 75, in Ridgewood presented their original large-scale public artworks Monday as part of the Learning through an Expanded Arts Program public art program.
Called the largest student art exhibition in the history of the city Parks Department and the first to span the five boroughs, it features school lunchroom tables that are transformed into meaningful works of art addressing social issues they feel are important in their community.
Each borough selected two schools to work on a given table. The students vote on the issue they wish to portray on their table and spend 16 sessions working with a teaching artist on the piece.
“These types of projects empower the students and gives them a voice,” said Christy Powers the LEAP teaching assistant who worked with both schools on their projects. “It’s a concrete way for them to explain themselves and a good outlet so that if they have a bad day, they can just draw. In this day and age when we focus so heavily on testing, these projects allow the kids to think without the pressure of a grade.”
PS 9 decided after the shooting in Newtown Conn. that creating a piece on gun violence and the need for stronger gun laws would best benefit the area.
“We did the yin-yang to show the good and the bad,” Demitrius Moris, a sixth-grader at PS 9, said. “One side shows what happens when we have guns and violence and the other shows the beautiful things like love and wishing. I see shooting stuff in the news all of the time. We need to make this a better place, a good place. Not just for me and my school but for everybody in the whole world.”
“We thought it was a good idea to talk about stronger gun laws since it’s talked about everywhere,” Carlos Seixis, an eighth-grader, said. “It’s important for everyone in general to know how bad guns can be.”
PS 9’s project was installed in the picnic area of Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village, where it will stay for the entire summer for people to eat at and admire.
“The parks that were chosen are parks that are close to the school so that the kids can hopefully visit in the summer and show their friends and family,” Powers said.
“By connecting, whether it’s social issues or academics, to the arts makes it fun and makes it different from the typical ‘turn to page 24’ textbook learning,” Alexandra Leff, the deputy director of LEAP said. “The whole idea of the tables is that it represents the children coming to the table to talk about issues that impact them and their communities.”
A few miles east in the Jacobson Playground in Forest Park, another lunch table, created by middle school boys of Ps 75, was installed.
“We’re just trying to do something about the forest and talk about global warming,” Antonio McDuffie, a sixth-grader who worked on the project, said.
Frank, who folded origami monkeys, frogs and birds that were pasted throughout the piece, said he wants the community to work harder to preserve the planet and hopes the table will inspire them to do so.
“I’m hoping people will actually do what we want them to do which is clean the world up,” he said.
“It was mostly about the rainforest and tell people to stop cutting down trees because you’re hurting the environment,” Brad Hughes said. “There might be animals that we’ve never even heard of that are already dead so we want to tell people not to do this.
This isn’t the first time the students had the opportunity to admire their artwork, though. On May 23, all of the students who participated in the program were invited to Union Square Park in Manhattan for a student social-action art exhibition where every table was put on display.
“We really had fun working together and making art,” Lily Menendez, a sixth-grader at P 9 who wants to be an artist when she grows up, said. “I do want to thank our teachers who are now, like famous after everyone got to see the art.”
After the tables are removed from the parks in August, they will return to the respective schools, where they will be displayed.
“Some schools put the table in the lunchroom so kids can sit and eat at it or they take the table apart and mount the tops onto the wall for everyone to see when they walk by,” Powers said.
This is the sixth year that LEAP has held its student exhibition, entitled “A View From the Lunchroom, Students Bringing Issues to the Table.”