The show, which runs from May 9 to June 18, features 100 different artworks by public school students from the second through sixth grades who participated in the Guggenheim’s educational outreach program, Learning Through Art.
The program, now its 43rd year, places professional teaching artists in elementary school classrooms throughout the five boroughs to ensure that more children have the opportunity to interact with the arts.
“It's really about teaching and providing students with the opportunity to understand the artistic process,” said Greer Kudon, the Guggenheim’s senior education manager who oversees the program. “We see a lot of kids who might not be excelling in math or science or reading who blossom when they have the opportunity to do art.”
Learning Through the Arts was founded in 1970 in response to the elimination of art and music programs in New York City public schools. Since then, funding for arts programs has been restored and state law now requires arts education for middle and high school students. However, a recent report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer shows that 28 percent of public schools lack any kind of full-time art teacher. In addition, spending on outside arts programming dropped by 47 percent over the course of the last seven years, the report said.
The goal of Learning Through the Arts is to help bridge that gap. This year, the programs 16 teaching artists worked with almost 1,500 students from 11 different schools. The final projects included sculptures made from found objects from the students’ neighborhoods, character cards based on the Mexican game Lotería, and abstract maps that traced students’ memories and hopes for the future.
Students from each school were on hand at the opening to act as guides for each classes’ project.
Junior Jorge, a fourth-grader at P.S. 86 in The Bronx, explained his decision to create a sculpture of police tape for his final project.
“I needed something that represented my community,” Jorge said. “I found police tape, which protects us from dangerous things, and that inspired me.”
Melanie Ortiz, a sixth-grader who also attends P.S. 86, talked about the process behind her class project, in which students were asked to reflect on important moments of in their lives and create pages from a graphic novel that told the story of that change.
“It’s about when my stepmom told me she was having a baby,” Ortiz said of her page. “When I saw the sonogram, I was so shocked and happy. It was like a miracle.”
Ortiz, who does not have a regular art class at her school, said the program taught her to think about art in a deeper way.
“I learned that painting is not only about having fun, but also about expressing yourself,” she said. “You can show how you feel. It’s like looking at a reflection of your life.”
Jenny Bevill, a teaching artist who has been with the program for 11 years, said the most rewarding part of her job is seeing how deeply working with art affects the students.
“I had a parent come up to me recently whose daughter was in my very first group. This girl had used the work she had done with me to get into an arts high school,” she said. “The fact that she was still thinking about it, that it still had an impact on her, means a lot.”