NY1's new series "The Classroom Collection" covers a one-of-a-kind art collection in a very unlikely place: the public schools. The art is designed to inspire students, but as Education reporter Lindsey Christ found out, one art teacher says just glimpsing a piece in a school inspired her to enter the classroom.
The city's public schools possess a serious art collection, more than 1,500 pieces created over the past 150 years. It is the only collection of its kind in the country.
In one school, 140 bowling balls are suspended like gumdrops from the ceiling. Another school has an iconic civil rights sculpture tells a hero's story. Other pieces include a 110-feet-long abstract mural that twists along a hallway and paper airplanes that soar through a glass wall.
"Looking in the window of a school and you see this wonderful color coming through, that was one of the first things that attracted me. And I thought, 'Wow, there must be something else that is happening here,'" says P.S. 270 art teacher Ida Owens. "And I kind of just wanted to feed off of that and what already existed. The colors just draw you in.
"It's a source of inspiration, excitement, it's a learning tool. It can further expand the community's own perception of itself," says Public Art for Public Schools Director Tania Duvergne.
A giant sundial sculpture by Robert Adzema lets students at Port Richmond High School tell the time. Mid-afternoon at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn looks like dawn and dusk, thanks to a Krzysztof Wodiczko installation in the auditorium. In I.S. 5 in Elmhurst, Queens, students walk under newspaper clippings in 24 languages, forming what artist Sung-Ho Choi calls an "American Pie."
"We don't want art only to be on a wall of someone's expensive apartment. We want it and need it to be for the public, to be shared with everyone," says Center for Arts Education Director Richard Kessler.
Yet over the years, many pieces have become forgotten. In some schools, students pass important art work every day without knowing anything about it. Some pieces have become damaged. Others are being saved.
From new commissions to maintaining pieces to restoring old work, this is a particularly challenging collection to manage.
But at places like P.S. 270 in Middle Village, where Principal Eleanor Andrew decided to open an art school after seeing this sculpture, it can be powerful.
"If you can have art, genuine art in a school, it sort of sets the bench as to what the city lays as what's important," Andrew says. "And so it's here, and I'm very proud that it was put here, in southeast Queens."