When second-grader Rayna Liane Colón walks into room 207 of P.S. 112 Jose Celson Barbosa on 119th Street in East Harlem, her eyes light up and you can see the excitement in her face. The tan walls of the room are covered with painted portraits of students and collagraph prints hang from clothing lines that stretch across the room. Shelves are filled with sculptures of animals and paper mache heads. It is more than just a regular classroom. It is a Studio in a School.
Studio in a School is a non-profit organization that has been a part of P.S. 112 for 22 years. In 1977, Agnes Gund, President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), founded Studio in a School in response to city budget cuts that practically eliminated the arts education in public schools. Its mission has been the same for the past 35 years: provide professionals to teach visual arts in New York City public schools that wouldn’t have art programs otherwise. According to Studio, about 90 percent of the children who create art with them come from low-income homes.
“I only had the idea of wanting to do it,” Gund said. “It is really the Studio’s team and artists that brought it to what it is.”
The program has served over 800,000 children, from 4-year-olds to 24-year-olds. It is present in more than 150 locations, including about 120 schools throughout New York City and a variety of museums. Studio in a School provides classes in drawing, printmaking, painting, and sculpting, photography, and also works with teachers who want to link arts with other academic subjects.
On Monday, June 4, Studio in a School launched its Visual Arts Appreciation Week at P.S. 112 with Jeff Koons, the American artist known for his enormous, stainless steel sculptures that playfully mimic balloon animals. The purpose of the week is to highlight the importance of arts education by partnering high-profile members of the art community with young children. Sixteen of P.S. 112’s second-graders had the opportunity to sit down with Koons, look at his work and make movable, paper puppets with him.
“It was so cool,” Rayna Liane Colón said with a smile on her face. “I love art class, we make cool things!”
“It is really important that children are exposed to art,” said Koons, for whom art is the anchor and core of his life.
Eileen Reiter, principal of P.S. 112, said Studio in a School does more than teach kids to draw. It helps their vocabulary, their critical thinking and math skills.
Studio covers roughly around 80 percent of the costs involved in partnering with a school through fundraising, which amounts to $4 million a year according to Thomas Cahill, president and CEO of Studio in a School.
“One of the sad things about these times is that schools are making tough choices based on the kinds of limited budgets that they have and too frequently the arts is the first thing to go,” said Cahill.
But as long as Reiter is the principal of P.S. 112, Studio in a School is there to stay.
“It is a program that I would fund no matter what,” she said. “The school is so alive with the children’s work and they learn so much that it is a top priority to me.”