The Classroom Collection, Part 2: Artistic Works Reflect Diversity Within
This week, NY1 is taking a rare inside look at a one-of-a-kind art collection inside the city's public schools. In part two, education reporter Lindsey Christ talks to the program director about three pieces considered among the collection's highlights.
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A century-old stained glass window completes a Brooklyn high school auditorium shaped like a Gothic chapel. The message to students: Education is sacred. A mosaic from the 1970s in a Bronx middle school celebrates racial harmony. And a work created last year in a Queens school for sciences is all hexagons and diagonal lines, symbolizing scientific patterns and possibilities.
All of the works are by renowned artists; all created for public school students.
"Like New York City and its students, the collection is widely diverse," says Public Art for Public Schools Director Tania Duvergne.
But for a hundred years, there's been a common goal: For each piece to somehow speak to the specific school building it's in and the community it's for. A stained glass window at Flatbush's Erasmus High School was one of the first.
"It's a beautiful example of how artwork became integrated into the architecture at the turn of the century," says Duvergne.
Before then, most of the art in schools had been reproductions. One piece by a leading English firm celebrates the schools' namesake as both a student and a teacher.
"Artwork at that time was used to inspire and to encourage," explains Duvergne.
The message isn't subtle, but neither is the message six decades later. World-renowned African-American artist Romare Beaden had just finished a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art when he designed the mosaic for PS 811 in the Bronx. It features a map of Puerto Rico, a map of Africa and students from each heritage joining together, in a book, over the city skyline.
"It was commissioned at a time where issues of racial equality and harmony were very much at the forefront," says Duvergne.
But the meaning of a contemporary, abstract mural by Sarah Morris at Gateway High School for Health Sciences in Jamaica is more subtle.
The piece is about movement and spaces in the urban environment, but shares the same goals as the older works: to reflect the students, in this case aspiring scientists, and to highlight the particular building.
"The color tones and the materials that are used are actually quite subdued and it lends itself to this bright and dynamic and welcoming piece of artwork in the front," says Duvergne.