LeAp Public Art Program allows students to paint about issues their communities face

LeAp Public Art Program allows students to paint about issues their communities face
Courtesy of Leap
By Angelica Acevedo

Two Queens middle schools showcased their original, large-scale public artwork last week as part of this year’s “A View From the Lunchroom: Students Bringing Issues to the Table,” LeAp’s citywide Student Exhibition.

Normally, drawing on lunchroom tables at school is frowned upon. But LeAp’s 10th annual Public Art Program encouraged middle school students to do just that, by creating artwork on lunchroom tables in order to address various social issues.

“Kids are part of our communities and experience all the same things we do, but don’t have a voice,” LeAp’s Public Art Program Creator and Director Alexandra Leff said at last Friday’s event. “LeAp’s Public Art Program gives them a citywide platform to express themselves on issues that matter most to them.” The two schools that represented Queens were Intermediate School 77 in Ridgewood and Robert E. Peary School 75 in Flushing. The art tables can be seen in Benninger Park in Ridgewood and Forest Park, respectively.

In Forest Park’s showcase of the Peary School art table, over a dozen students, teachers, family and friends gathered to talk about what this project meant to them. LeAp designed the program as a group project where students could vote on issues that affect them the most.

They voted to paint about gang violence and bullying. According to the NYPD, in the past five years crime in Ridgewood has gone down more than 20 percent and in Flushing more than 6 percent.

As the children sat on their art table, Leff asked them about the process of the program and what they learned from it. She assured them that aside from having this on their resume, they’re also “social activists.”

This is seventh-grader Elias Melendez’s second year in the program, and he was one of the students to speak in the exhibit’s kick-off at Union Square May 16.

“You could be very artistic if you put your mind to it,” Melendez said.

Every year two different schools in each of the five boroughs are selected to participate in the program, which is developed in cooperation with NYC Parks.

Jermaine McClain, one of the Peary teachers, thought that the program helped students express themselves in a unique way.

“What I like about it is that oftentimes students have opinions about things, but when you ask them to write it, they might be hesitant,” McClain said. “With this art-project they were really able to convey their ideas and their emotions.”

Javaughn Montaque, a sixth grader, said that because he was bullied when he was little, it was important for him to draw about it.

“I wanted to make people see how I felt when I was little,” Montaque said. “Whoever’s getting bullied, don’t be quiet. Talk.”

Alison Rutsch, an art teacher with the LeAp program who worked closely with the students, said they were very vocal about the message they wanted to present.

“They were thinking really critically and there were some really good discussions … because a lot of them have gone through real experiences with the types of things we were talking about,” Rutsch said.

The lunchroom tables from all the other participating schools can be seen from now through August in Claremont Park and Crotona Park in the Bronx; Riverside Park and Captain Jacob Joseph Playground in Manhattan; Bensonhurst Park and Sternberg Park in Brooklyn; and Clove Lakes Park and Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

Schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said she is “grateful to LeAp for its partnership in engaging our students in the arts and civic engagement. I congratulate these students on creating powerful table murals, and remain dedicated to expanding arts programs at schools across the City.”