Student artists LeAp into activism with work

By Shanna Fuld

Students from two Queens middle schools recently unveiled tables in two city parks, each one painted with designs that bring a powerful message to life.

Ridding the world of animal abuse and violence was the theme of the table created by students from the Walter Reed School 9Q in Elmhurst. The designs on their table, which will be in Juniper Valley Park for the next year, represented different ecosystems with a variety of animals and signs saying things like “Stop destroying their habitat” or “Save the dolphins.”

LeAp, an independent non-profit organization, helped to create the project. The organization’s mission is to help students in the city learn core subjects through art forms.

LeAp art teacher Christy Powers played a big role in realizing the children’s vision. Initially, she put up a large board listing controversial topics and had the students vote for the ones they wanted to work on. She came back for the next session (there were two sessions per week) with information to answer all the students’ research questions and to get the investigation going. Working in small groups, the class researched information about animal abuse, endangerment and the environment.

“The table is beautiful. It’s meaningful, it’s powerful and you’re going to have a big impact on the Queens community,” Powers told the students.

“I helped out with the design for the table,” Isaiah Rodriguez, 11, said. “The project was about how people abuse animals and how people poach animals for their own benefit. We need to preserve animals.”

In Forest Park, the Robert E. Peary School 75Q presented its table, with the theme of combatting violence in our communities and the world. Queens Park Commissioner Dorothy Lewandoski came to enjoy the art and interact with students.

“People will eat their lunch on this table and as they sit here they will figure out what it means and hopefully [the art on the table] will spark dialogue,” Lewandoski said. She also mentioned that in the eight years the program has been running, “we’ve never had any vandalism” of the tables.

While they were in the process of developing their ideas and designs, classes were taken to see artists who inspired the students to create and work hard.

“My favorite part was when we got to see [graffiti artist] Crash and talk about his art. He showed us his studio in the Bronx. He used to dream with graffiti and he accomplished his dream,” Kevin Guerrero, 12, said.