In Our Schools Today

Students’ Art on Exhibit at the Guggenheim

From February through mid-May, John Chamberlain’s sculptures adorned the curving ramps of the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan as part of a sprawling retrospective exhibit. Chamberlain created dozens of sculptures since the late 1950s, and his work has been featured in exhibitions around the world. But the retrospective exhibit has now closed, and on view currently at the illustrious museum is no longer the work of John Chamberlain but that of Lyn Garcia, a nine-year-old fourth-grader at PS 8 in Brooklyn.

Such is the beauty of the Guggenheim’s Learning Through Art program, which for 41 years has been connecting teaching artists to New York City public schools. Over 20 sessions between October and May, the teaching artists go to schools to help students in second through sixth grades learn how to harness their creativity and express themselves through various media. They take three class trips to the Guggenheim to draw inspiration for their projects. Then, for about five weeks in May and June, a selection of the students’ culminating artwork is displayed alongside that of more well-known artists. About 1,400 students from 11 schools participated in the program this year, which resulted in A Year with Children 2012.

At a pre-opening event in early May, Lyn, in a gray suit and a fresh haircut, stood beside a photograph of his sculpture. One student from each school had been selected to serve as a docent for the evening, and Lyn welcomed visitors to his section of the exhibit, speaking excitedly of the program. “It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s cool.” Learning Through Art changed his plans for the future. “I want to be a sculptor because you get to use your imagination.”

To his right, Helssy Baez, a fourth-grader at PS 86 in the Bronx, talked about how painting with watercolors helped her relax.

Meanwhile, Jasmin Atwa, a fifth-grader at PS 676 in Brooklyn, stood proudly by her own circular sculpture, which resembled the Guggenheim.

“I picked a circle because it doesn’t have any sides and because there aren’t any buildings in my neighborhood like this,” she said. Jasmin enjoyed being at the uniquely shaped museum. “It’s fun because it’s swirly and so you get to go around and around.”

Farther down the exhibit, Benjamin Ang, a fifth-grader at PS 42 in Manhattan, stood patiently, holding a photo from the recent Maurizio Cattelan exhibit that included dozens of Cattelan’s works strung from the ceiling of the Guggenheim’s rotunda. After the class viewed the Cattelan exhibit, teaching artist Jen Cecere said Benjamin and his classmates had created their own series of mobiles, focused on historical figures like Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, and Napoleon Bonaparte, through an interdisciplinary project with their social studies teacher. Each student brought their own perspective to the project and had to “look through a different pair of eyes,” Benjamin said.

And what does he think about his artwork being in the Guggenheim?

“I think it’s an amazing privilege.”

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