MIDTOWN — A group of art aficionados huddled around Celine Lubin inside a gallery on East 53rd Street just off Fifth Avenue on a recent evening.
The artist had been attracting attention all night, with adoring crowds hunching over or taking a knee to hear the diminutive Lubin describe the painstaking care that went into creating her latest masterpiece — a papier-mâché elephant mask.
“Well, I tried all different types of animals, and it didn’t turn out well,” the artist explained when asked why an elephant, and not perhaps a bear or a giraffe.
But Lubin is no haughty aesthete -- she's a kindergartner at P.S. 207 in Brooklyn.
Lubin was one of dozens of students whose artwork now covers the walls at the gallery run by Studio in a School, a program that brings art teachers and programming to New York City schools in need.
“I’m really happy about it,” said Lubin, her tight braids bound by multicolored barrettes. “It feels great.”
This month, the program, which exhibits student-made artwork throughout the year, celebrates its 35th year in existence, said Tom Cahill, Studio in a School’s president and CEO.
“Our program’s strength is that … it reaches communities that have a need for this,” said Cahill, who has worked for the nonprofit organization for 33 years.
Cahill, himself a painter, said the program either supplements existing art programs within schools or creates programs where before there were none. At the Neighborhood School in Manhattan’s East Village, for example, Studio in a School is the sole source of art education.
In total, the program serves about 125 schools throughout New York City, Cahill said. Through fundraising, Studio in a School covers about 80 percent of the costs involved in partnering with a school, which comes to about $4 million every year, he explained.
Over the course of its lifetime — which includes years when public schools cut art from their curricula entirely — Cahill said the program has provided New York City’s schools with some $82 million in art education services.
“This art program was really about the kids having a voice and a style and their own statements,” Cahill said. “It’s always stayed true to the same philosophy.”
To supplement the in-school education, Studio in a School teachers select artwork every couple of months for an exhibition in the program’s Midtown gallery.
Dozens of students, parents and teachers filled the intimate, ground-floor space for a recent opening, which featured everything from sculpture to collage to pastel drawings.
“I love this program, and I’m so grateful that it exists,” said Kiva Dawson, whose 5-year-old son, Jesse, attends the Neighborhood School.
Jesse made a sculpture that was set up on a white pedestal at the gallery. Dawson said she wasn’t sure what it represented. Jesse confirmed it was a dog-alligator.
Evelyn Marin, 8, from P.S. 171 on East 103rd Street in Manhattan, combined cut up pieces of colored sand paper to make a pink-and-purple Empire State building, which she happily announced was also the image chosen for the invitation to the exhibition.
Her father was equally thrilled.
“She’s the main star because…” he said as he whipped the invitation out of his pocket. “I’m very proud of my daughter.”
Cahill said the exhibitions are a significant part of the Studio in a School program. Each exhibit stays up for one or two months, and each new show is unveiled with an opening night reception.
“We really believe that by sharing artwork, you show that it’s valuable,” Cahill explained. “Every child should have that kind of experience.”
Kevin Brady, father of kindergartner Quinn, agreed.
“You give them a little taste of this, and they get really excited,” he said, as his daughter smiled shyly near her sculpture of a snake wrapped around a tree.
“It’s right near MoMa, you know,” he added with a smile. “That’s our next stop.”