By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Public school students from throughout the city gathered in Union Square Park on a rainy Tuesday morning on May 19 to present colorfully decorated lunchroom tables that addressed major social issues in their communities and the world.
The students from 10 city schools worked with various artists in their studios to create the painted tables through an initiative made possible by Learning through an Expanded Arts Program (LeAp) and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The tables will be on display throughout the five boroughs near the schools where they were created from June through the end of August.
The presentation in Union Square was the only time that all the tables were in one place.
In previous years, students have covered issues like bullying, racism, gay rights and drug addiction but have also addressed issues specifically relevant to the time, such as Hurricane Sandy. This year, students examined issues similar to those in previous years, as well as more current issues like gun violence and police brutality.
Students from the Robert Peary School in Queens addressed police brutality in their table, they said, because of recent incidents of violence against unarmed African Americans.
“No matter what color we are, we all deserve respect and we have come together to create a community that has respect and justice for all,” one of the students said at the event in Union Square.
Guest artists Christo, Kehinde Wiley, Deborah Kass, Daze, Crash, Federico Solmi, How and Nosm, David Katzenstein, Sherrie Nickol, Bradley Hart and Virginia Wagner helped the students with their project and spoke with them about their lives as artists and allowed students to tour their studios and see where they work.
Kass, a painter who deals with pop culture, art history and the self in her work, offered students advice about how to deal with the disappointment from mistakes.
“When you make a mess and figure a way out of it, you always learn something new,” she said. “Mistakes are your best friend so never be afraid to fail.”
The students that Kass worked with, a group from the Venture School in the Bronx, addressed gun violence with their table.
“I wish all artists addressed these issues the way you did,” she told them. “Not enough artists are dealing with these issues and they should.”