Student artists address social issues in works

By Gabrielle Prusak

Learning through an Expanded Arts Program, student artists have created artwork that speaks to major social issues in their communities.

Earlier this week, students at two Queens middle schools, PS 9 Walter Reed in Maspeth and PS 75 Robert E. Peary in Flushing, presented their original, large-scale public artworks: cafeteria tables that they transformed into colorful and meaningful works of art.

In their pieces, they addressed the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school and bullying.

“We chose drugs because it was a big problem in the United States and all the boroughs in New York,” PS 75 student Kenneth Brabhyam, 13, said. “I hope that people change their ways and I hope that this table influences their lives to stop doing such a bad thing. I hope that they stop smoking and doing drugs and drinking because it can really kill your brain cells and it will make a big effect on your life.”

These two Queens schools are part of 10 throughout the city — two per borough — to have created works that comprise the largest student art exhibition in the history of city parks, and also the first to span the five boroughs.

This is LeAp’s seventh-annual, citywide student exhibition and is titled “A View from the Lunchroom: Students Bringing Issues to the Table.” As a symbol of students’ conversations and the ideas they create within them, school lunchroom tables were used as their canvas for this art project.

LeAp teaching artists started working with students in January and helped them explore community issues and study the history, practice and power of public art.

But they ultimately were there to help the students create works of art for the exhibition on the surfaces of the lunchroom tables and help students express their ideas and feelings about these issues.

Many internationally renowned artists served as guest artists for the program and had met with students to discuss their work. Some of the artists who were a part of this program were Christo, Lorna Simpson, Jenny Holzer, Daze, Crash, Emma Amos, Federico Solmi, David Katzenstein, Sherrie Nickol, Joseph Peller, Joseph Sorren and Carol Goebel.

“LeAp is a wonderful New York organization that Jeanne-Claude and I have been proud to be involved in for many years,” said environmental artist Christo. “It is important for young students to learn about the arts, and we have always appreciated LeAp’s hands-on and personal approach to education.”

Before the installation of the artwork tables in the 10 parks, the student artists presented their pieces and talked about the issues they explored at an opening event at Union Square last month. There were also many top city officials who were there to honor and congratulate the students.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke at the event and said, “The visual and performing arts not only make learning fun, they help students develop the critical-thinking skills they need to succeed in school and in life.” She continued, “I thank LeAp for being a valued partner in bringing innovative arts education to our public school students.”

LeAp is a nonprofit arts education organization committed to improving the quality of teaching the arts in public education through a unique, hands-on, arts-based approach.

Since 1977, the organization has provided more than 2 million city students in kindergarten through 12th-grade with music, dance, theater, digital media and visual arts programs that directly teach the academic curriculum.