Straight from the Artist

If you are a parent of children attending NYC public schools, you know how art, dance and music programs have been cut due to budget issues. This always frustrated and enraged me, as those subjects are often the most engaging and inspiring outlets for kids. But, given that our public schools don’t have the most basic supplies like paper, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In any case, this is  Visual Arts Appreciation Week. For NYC Title 1 public schools, which serve low income families, and have had to result to extreme measures to gather art supplies, some lucky students had a special teaching guest, the pop artist, Jeff Koons. Here’s an overview of this very special art lesson organized by Studio in a School, a nonprofit organization founded by the philanthropist Agnes Gund that brings arts education into the city’s public schools.

For the first time in Studio’s 35-year history, the organization has invited high-profile artists into classrooms to highlight the importance of arts education. Instructors will include Fred Wilson, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Claudia Demonte. Schools that artists will visit include P.S 112 and  P.S. 46 in Harlem, P.S. 75 on the Upper West Side and P.S. 139 in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

From Balloon Dogs to Puppets, Jeff Koons Teaches an Art Class

Artist Jeff Koons helps second graders at P.S. 112 with paper animal sculptures as part of Visual Arts Appreciation Week.Abbie Fentress Swanson/WNYCArtist Jeff Koons helps second graders at P.S. 112 with paper animal sculptures as part of Visual Arts Appreciation Week.

 

June 5, 2012, 9:40 a.m.

By Abbie Fentress Swanson

An artist known for his monumental metal sculptures of balloonlike animals helped teach an East Harlem elementary school on Monday.

Jeff Koons visited second graders at Public School 112 Jose Celson Barbosa and showed them how to make moveable animal puppets using paper and fasteners. His visit kicked off Visual Arts Appreciation Week, during which high-profile artists visit New York City school classrooms to talk about making art.

First, the students talked with Mr. Koons about his iconic 2,000-pound “Balloon Dog” sculptures.

Pointing to a picture of a blue version of “Balloon Dog,” held up by the students’ art teacher, Cathy Ramey, Mr. Koons explained the piece to the class.

“That’s in stainless steel and it’s polished so it has a mirror surface, very reflective … it’s like a spoon,” he said.

Mr. Koons explained that he made his sculptures shiny “so that you could walk by and you could see yourself and realize that by your movement you are affecting the different reflections in the piece and the perception of it.”

Before he scaled his pieces and cast them in steel, he told the children the sculptures were in fact balloons.

“The blue one – the legs down here – looks like it’s going to pop,” said one student, David Marcano.

Then the class got busy making their own moving Godzillas, lizards and butterflies using paper, fasteners and hole punchers.

Janny Moran was having trouble deciding what kind of bird to make.

“Maybe a peacock?” she said. “Or I don’t know what bird … I like birds a lot.”

Mr. Koons said he remembered fondly making art in kindergarten.

“It was a very important aspect of my upbringing,” he said. “Learning about myself, my own possibilities, letting you know you can affect the way you feel through color, line, shape.”

The program that brought Mr. Koons into the classroom is organized by Studio in a School, a group that provides arts instruction to students at 110 Title I schools in the five boroughs. Click here for the week’s schedule of schools and visiting artists.

        Abbie Fentress Swanson covers arts and culture for WNYC and is the editor for WNYC’s Culture Web site. Follow her on Twitter @dearabbie. 

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Good competition? The 2012 Scripps National S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G Bee

In what has become an annual tradition, the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee took place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

A total of 278 spellers competed, among them 136 boys and 142 girls ages 6-15 from across the nation and around the globe. The spellers range in age from 6 to 15 years old, but 84% are between the ages of 12 and 14 years old. The finalists can be found here and their achievements are certainly noteworthy. This is not anything like the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the hilarious Broadway show, which spoofs the spelling bee tradition.

This is serious business.

My colleague, Dr. Hilary Levey Friedman, is a Harvard sociologist who studies beauty pageants, childhood and parenting, competition, and education. In fact, we met when she was writing her PhD and she was observing our New York City public school’s nationally ranked chess team–PS 116–on which my sons played. Here’s a link for her take on this year’s Bee.

Do your kids compete in activities? How do they handle it? How do you handle it when they win or lose?

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Good competition? The 2012 Scripps National S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G Bee

In what has become an annual tradition, the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee took place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

 A total of 278 spellers competed, among them 136 boys and 142 girls ages 6-15 from across the nation and around the globe. This is not anything like the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the hilarious Broadway show.

This is serious business. My colleague, Hilary Friedman, is a Harvard sociologist who studies and has written extensively about children and competition. In fact, we met when she was writing her PhD and my sons were playing competitive chess on the New York City Public School 116 nationally ranked chess team . Here’s a link for her take on this year’s Bee.

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Play (Dress Up) Time

I love to read Bill Cunningham’s pictorial fashion reports in The New York Times, where he has been a regular contributor for more than 25 years, and this week’s article completely delighted me. First, it features style and fashion of the preschool set, and also, because it was photographed at the annual Children’s Fair in Madison Square Park, which is on the fringe of my old neighborhood, Kips Bay. The part has evolved so beautifully and is in prime time right now. Years ago, when my oldest, Jacob, was little, it was known as Needle Park, because even though it had a decent wooden playground, it was inhabited by drug addicts and other undesirables. We would go there just for a change of pace from the then-newly built Asser Levy Recreation Center and Park on East 25th Street and Asser Levy Place, just off the FDR Drive and adjacent to the Waterside overpass. Madison Square Park is now a lush city refuge, beautifully landscaped and meticulously tended to. It has a lovely little park with slides and fun water sprays and sprinklers city kids love frolicking through in warmer weather; interesting, thought-provoking outdoor sculpture installations and a respectableconcert series I hope to attend these next few months as a way to unwind after a day’s work.

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of course, the now-famous Shake Shack, restauranteur Danny Meyer’s contribution to fast food, where they serve arty flavors of frozen custard like lavender, and even frozen treats for dogs. With the transformation of the surrounding neighborhoods, Flatiron District, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Murray Hill and Chelsea, the people and kid watching there has also improved; hence the following article.

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Family Gardening

I have been volunteering my time at the most gorgeous community garden, Project Eden. Under the auspices of the NYC Parks Department’s Green Thumb program, it is hard to believe that our little oasis was once a junk yard. I am still very much a novice, but have fallen in love with gardening and being part of our group. I’ve learned about plants and flowers, but also bigger life lessons such as accepting imperfection, re-purposing found objects to act as stakes to guide flowers and plants; timing-how to plan a garden so there is a flow of colors, texture and edibles, too. It being Memorial Day weekend, I was thrilled to spend more time at the Project Eden garden this weekend. I find that I get lost in it and lose track of time. There is something so great about pressing my hands into the dirt, planting, trimming or just taking it all in. We had so many visitors, too, including lots of young children, some the progeny of garden members, which made being there even more special.

This family even brought a child-sized watering can and let their preschool age daughter get into the fun by digging, adding soil nutrients and even planting. It touched me as such a wonderful way to bond with one another. I had fun showing off our great work and taking families on a little tour of the garden, our herb garden (kids can taste oregano, sage, thyme, basil; sniff the rosemary (my personal favorite) and compare the softer taste of vanilla mint to its stronger, full bodied cousin, peppermint, as well as taken in our gorgeous roses (at least seven varieties) and exotic plants.

What Memorial Day outdoor activities are you enjoying with your kids? Is gardening one of them?

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A Google Doodle With Music

In between watching the New York Rangers playoff game, my son, Ben, who is fifteen, was relaxing on the sofa with his ever-present Mac Book.

“Mom,” he called. “Go to Google, NOW.” I heard what sounded like electronic music, but didn’t know what it was. Then, as I tapped G-o-o-g-l-e on my keyboard, the image of the Google oscillator appeared and, I too, totally by instinct, started to play.

Today’s Google Doodle is a tribute to Robert Moog, the musical innovator who would have turned 78 today and created the electronic Moog Synthesizer. “The new Doodle really came out of the love for what Bob Moog did by creating the Moog synthesizer. This is our most technically ambitious Doodle yet,” Ryan Germick, Google’s chief doodler (his real title!) said. The chief software engineer of the Moog Doodle, Joey Hurst, even designed it so you can use your  keyboard and the number row to play the keys. You can record, play back, and share songs with a link or on Google+.

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Theatre as a Springboard for Play

I live in New York, and my passion is attending live theatre. I love it all, drama, musicals, dance, and imparted an interest in theatre to my sons, Jacob and Ben. When they were younger, I took full or partial subscriptions to the then, just-opened New Victory, a refurbished history theatre in the heart of NYC’s Time

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Square, dedicated to shows for kids and families.

This year, the New Victory is celebrating their fifteenth year, and now teenagers, both of my sons often speak about their New Vic memories and the times we shared together. Our oldest, Jacob, started acting in musical theatre while at the Bronx High School of Science and is now studying theatre at Clark University, where he’s a freshman.

The quality of shows at the New Victory is truly stellar; I am continually impressed by the global array of talent and cutting edge creativity. This is not your typical children’s cute, hackneyed theatre. It’s on a different level completely. Thought provoking and artistically produced, the New Vic offers adults and kids a rich experience they can enjoy on a number of levels.

Parents can use their theatre experience as a springboard to playful exploration at home. After seeing the performance originated by the Windmill Theatre, it is not uncommon for kids ages 2-5 to go home and try to recapture the show through play acting. For parents who wish to extend the theatrical experience at home, read the seven strategies the company uses to encourage playful exploration. Guaranteed, everyone will have fun!

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http://newvictory.org/

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