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The Classroom Collection, Part 5: Artists Of New Public School Pieces Do Not Aim Low

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All week, NY1 has reported the remarkable art collection scattered throughout the public schools, and the final story in the series "The Classroom Collection" takes a closer look at some of the newest commissions. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Artist Jean Shin is one of 50 artists commissioned in the past decade to add to the city public school system's vast art collection. She hopes students recognize something in her artwork, so she let students donate plates to incorporate into a wall in a Battery Park City school.

"'That's my plate from my family, this one look just like my family's plate.' I think those questions and the curiosity of a child, that's really where the conversation begins," says Shin.

More than 100 of the school's families donated dinner tables to the piece.

"The narrative and stories behind each plate is something that is totally unpredictable and wonderful for me," says Shin.

Known for using everyday objects, Shin's style transferred easily to the school setting. It was harder for abstract artist Diana Cooper.

"Normally I make work that's in a gallery or museum, so it's in a more protected environment," says Cooper.

But she still made sure she was not simplifying her style for her young audience.

"I was very interested in not changing my basic vocabulary or interests because of the fear that it would be inaccessible," says Cooper.

The goal is for the artists to work closely with the architects early in the design process, so it is not just a work being plunked down into a school building.

On Staten Island, Cooper asked if the school could move two windows, and she worked with an electronic message board instead of ignoring it.

A new piece by David Opdyke in Bay Ridge shows a flock of paper planes in flight, and can be seen from outside, from the entryway and the upstairs hallway.

Artists hope their work will expand the students' ability to appreciate art, but they say students also need more opportunities to create art.

"In an ideal world you would have the public art in public schools and you would have art education," says Cooper.

"The largest school system in the U.S., 25 percent without one single part-time or full-time arts specialist," says Kessler.

Funding comes from the school construction budget, not the budget that covers teacher salaries. Still, Public Art for Public Schools Director Tania Duvergne says her goal is for students to not just study alongside artworks but also study about them.

"If it can just add the slightest bit of opening one's ideas and thought process, then I think we've accomplished something," says Duvergne.

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