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NY City Program Seeks to Help Children Use Art to Express Views - 2003-08-07

From early stages of development, children use art as a form of conveying their impressions of the world around them. A program in the New York City school system is designed to help children of different ages express their perceptions of their environment through art.

Thirteen-year-old Cheyenne Mack explains how he created his painting, which represents his dreams for a beautiful world. Cheyenne is a junior high school student in New York City. His painting is part of an exhibition, Imagine That! which features children's artwork as a way of expressing their views on the world around them.

The presentation is organized by "Studio in a School," a non-profit educational group that promotes art in the classroom.

"This is a program where artists and professionals work with children as their teachers," said Tom Cahill, its executive director. "And they encourage the children to think of themselves as creating something not only with a material but with an idea and to take their work seriously. That's why we display the children's work. The children see themselves and learn about what it is to exhibit, learn about what it is to be in a gallery, and they understand going to a museum, when they see their work that way also."

The exhibition includes about 300 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and collages created by children from three to 12 years old. Mr. Cahill says the art in the exhibition is representative of the work of the 30,000 children participating in the program.

"It's been organized in a way so that it has been put in categories that any parent or person who wanted to learn about children and their art could approach it and understand which of the most common images children work with and then gave very good examples of how kids at different ages exploit the same concept or idea," said Mr. Cahil. "So you will find something very simple like a child's scribble of a head with a few lines to an older child's or adolescent's very detailed self-portrait. Or their interest in describing animals and their observation skills in noticing things that make an animal have its characteristic."

Andrew Aquino's work is one example of animal representation. A writing assignment in an English class inspired the 11-year-old to create a mask of a cheetah in his art class.

"I made it of papier-mâché, and to make it shiny like that I put this kind of wax on it, and around it, it's feathers. The teacher had told us to write about an animal, and I was doing an animal research project. I was doing it on the cheetah," he said.

Andrew says this is the first mask he has ever created. He likes making masks, and considers becoming an artist some day.

Studio in a School has been developing art programs for 25 years. The educational group is planning to organize about ten more exhibitions of children's works within the next year, including a continuation of the Imagine That! exhibition.