LeAp, or Learning through an Expanded Arts Program, launched its seventh annual student exhibition in city parks across the five boroughs. Lunch tables decorated by students from ten different schools in the boroughs address social issues the students experience and feel strongly about.
“The inspiration is to target middle school students throughout the city, and it’s a way to empower them to have a voice in their communities and to have a public forum to express how they feel about issues around them,” Director of LeAp’s Public Art Program Alexandra Leff said.
This year’s project began back in January, when schools and groups of students were selected to participate in largest student exhibition in city parks in history. Students then picked a social issue they wished to address with their lunch table, and decorated the tables over a few months.
“The school lunchroom table is a symbol of students’ ideas and conversations, because in the cafeteria is when they’re more relaxed and talking about what’s bothering them or what’s concerning them,” Leff said. “So the idea is symbolically to bring that conversation into the parks throughout the city.”
On May 20, all ten schools went to Union Square to present their tables and discuss the issues they addressed through their art.
The two Brooklyn schools that participated were PS 53K, whose table is on display in Detective Mayrose Park off of Seventh Avenue, and PS/MS 282, whose table is at JJ Byrne Playground off of Fifth Avenue.
Each school had different topics and different ways of presenting their selections. While P 53K chose to address violence and the need for kindness through a brightly painted table, PS/MS 282 addressed racism and religious intolerance and used photography as their main art medium.
“You have to be kind to other people,” Renald Pier, a 7th grader at PS 53K said of the topic he and his classmates chose.
“We chose racism because it’s a huge deal and a lot of kids and adults tease other people because of what religion they believe in or the color that they were born with,” Janiya Brown, an 8th grader at PS/MS 282, said.
Her classmate, Eve Driggers, hoped that their table would spark change in the people who saw it.
“I hope it makes people reflect on what they’ve been doing or what they’ve heard and try to make a difference from it and try to change what they’ve been doing,” Driggers said.
For Jami Whitney, a teacher at PS 53K, being selected for LeAp ended up meaning a lot more to her and her students than just working on an art project.
“It also helps them with their communication skills, it helps boost their reading skills a little bit, it just helps overall,” she said. “I notice differences in the way they speak with each other.”
Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina agrees about art’s importance and ability to develop a number of skills in students.
“The visual and performing arts not only make learning fun, they help students develop the critical-thinking skills they need to succeed in school and in life,” Farina said.
The lunch tables will be on display in the parks throughout the summer. In August, the tables will be returned to their respective schools, where they can be used in the lunchroom or hung on the wall as a mural.