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Art Battle Brings Out the Creative Spark in Lower East Side Kids

By Serena Solomon | August 27, 2012 6:27am

LOWER EAST SIDE — Paintbrushes became weapons and the canvas a battlefield as local students competed in an art battle as part of a new initiative to teach painting skills.

Local non-profit the Educational Alliance along with ArtBattles, an organization that hosts international events between professional artists, brought the concept to kid-level for the first time last week as part of a summer holiday program. Art battles are typically set on a stage in front of a live audience giving artists a set amount of time to complete their work.

"It helps them [the kids] practice freedom of expression," said Sean Bono, a Lower East Side artists who helped found ArtBattles in 2000. “It helps them participate in a social environment while building up their art skills."

The live battle at P.S 142 was the climax to the alliance’s free seven-week summer program where local artists, such as Yatika Starr Fields and Gianna Gutierrez, taught kids about art and how to take it to battle.

On Thursday, two competitors at a time took to the stage and were given five minutes to produce their own pieces of work. At the end of each session their peers took a confidential vote on what they liked the best.

The event was the students' final and biggest art battle.

"I was nervous, but now I think I am going to win," said Tyrah Mulraine, 11.

She spontaneously chose to paint a flower using every color that was on her palette as she went head to head with 10-year-old Shane Rodriquez.

"People are having a hard time right now and I like to make people feel better," said  Shane, who went with her signature love heart accompanied by angel wings and a halo.

"You get to express your feelings and yourself," she said.

The Educational Alliance went with the initiative after another art organization, the Manhattan Apparel Project approached them with the idea.

"There are so many galleries popping up in the area," said Andrea Fennewalk, 29, from the project. “This is a great way to bring art to the kids.”

The associate director with the Educational Alliance, Kendra Newburgh, said the summer program helped make up for a lack of art tuition at the nearby P.S 140 where the non-profit runs an afterschool program.

"They haven’t been exposed to art and painting," she said.

Currently both the Educational Alliance and the Manhattan Apparel Project are planning how the initiative might become a regular program for Lower East Side kids.