Students tackle weighty issues in art project
by Chase Collum
Jun 04, 2014 | 2478 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LeAp students table social issues at Socrates Sculpture Park
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Bullying, drug use, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, animal abuse, gay rights, racism, child abuse - the sad truth is that children in New York City see social issues like these all around them.

In partnership with the Parks Department and Socrates Sculpture Park, students in the Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program (LeAp) led a discussion about these very issues, and then created a collaborative art project on table that will be installed in two Queens parks.

On Tuesday, June 10, the art tables will be unveiled in two separate events. The first will be at 10 a.m. in Juniper Valley Park in Middle village, and the second will occur at noon in Evergreen Park in Ridgewood.

“We have the power of choice,” said Brayan, a student at IS 5, to the students gathered in the park. “If we make the right choices throughout the week, we get points. If we make the right choices in life, we will be successful.”

Alexandra Leff, founder and director of LeAp’s public arts program, explained that the intent of the program is to work with a diverse cross-section of students, picking two schools in each borough to open up conversations about social issues each year.

“Our program empowers kids to have a voice in our communities. Kids are part of our communities and experience all the same things we do,” Leff said. “We present all the issues to them and they select the issues they are most passionate about. It all comes from the kids.”

Jonathan Kuhn, director of art and antiquities for the Parks Department, said that their coordination with LeAp has helped strengthen ties between students and their local parks. In a short speech to the attending students.

“Thousands of people are going to see your work on display, but what’s really important is that your work brings meaning to your lives,” Kuhn told the students.

Shawn Leonardo, programming director at Socrates Sculpture Park, said he was introduced to LeAp through the park’s founder, a connection that has continued to foster.

“Three years ago, one of LeAp’s guest artists was our founder, Mark di Suvero, so they took a group of students to his studio and workshop area just north of the park,” Leonardo said. “Through that introduction, I became interested in what they were all about, and Mark thought it would be a great idea to somehow tie them into what we do here.”

Prior to the Socrates Sculpture Park event, LeAp students worked in collaboration with established artists including Cristo, Jenny Holzer and Lorna Simpson, who gave the students input on their creations.

Amar from PS 75 in Queens said that he and his classmates chose to focus on bullying because it is an active problem within his school.

“I hope to see a change,” Amar said. “I hope the kids stop bullying. I hope they learn from what we wrote on the table.”

Leff is excited for the viewing public to once again see artwork created by the students, and hopes it will lead to further discussion by adults about how the issues they have raised can be resolved.

“This is the seventh year, and it’s the largest student exhibition in New York City Parks history,” Leff said “When the public comes this summer and sees their table in the park, they can really explore the issues that the kids are addressing.”

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