For students at P.S. 147, El Greco, the Spanish Renaissance painter and sculptor, served as the inspiration for the beautification of their neighborhood.
During the last week of May, a group of 75 fourth and fifth graders hung paintings at the Moore Street Market, inspired by El Greco’s View of Toledo, to create scenes from their neighborhoods – both real and imaginary.
“Known and Unknown Bushwick,” the name of the project, was made possible by NURTUREart, a Bushwick-based contemporary arts non-profit that in addition to running a full-time gallery, facilitates arts programs at several local schools that are integrated into the curriculum.
The Moore Street project too was part of the students’ curriculum. The installation itself took about five weeks to complete and was created by the students in collaboration with a local artist, Joey Weiss. A critical part of NURTUREart’s school programs is to pair local artists and students to act as a mutually beneficial enrichment project where both parties serve as equal sources of inspiration.
“It’s great being able to work a sustained project like this because it allows you to keep coming back to the work and continue to develop it with the kids,” said Weiss. “The kids just bring a level of energy that no one else can bring to the project. It really allowed them to think about their neighborhood in imaginative ways.”
In addition, NURTUREart also works with the teachers at the school to better integrate the arts into all forms of learning. PS 147 Principal, Sandra Noyola, said she witnessed an improvement in the students’ grasp of writing and mathematics once the art program was underway at the school.
“The program has been so beneficial to my students,” she said. “It allows to them to explore other means of learning and it is important to me that the kids are exposed to the vibrant Bushwick arts community. It improves their critical and analytical skills and also allows them a glimpse into the jobs of the future.”
The colorful paintings created by the students hang above the cafeteria in the market. Several arresting depictions created by them include streets lined with candy stores, houses, schools, and entire landscapes that are devoid of adults.
Students used Mark Rothko paintings as inspiration to create the mix of colors and understand the use of brush strokes while creating the backgrounds on the paintings. They worked on canvas using oil pastels on top of the painted backgrounds they had created.
In addition the students also wrote phrases inspired by the places they had visited which were pasted on the wall below the paintings.
Also central to the project was the utilization of a neighborhood public space to allow the students to showcase their work. The Moore Street Market not only has large open spaces but is also a place where families of several students shop for produce.
“Almost all of the students who participated in the program live close by and frequent the market with their families,” said Molly O’Brien, the education director at NURTUREart, who has helped the organization stage several installations at the Market over the past three years. “It’s nice to put up your work in school of course but there is a certain kind of validation to having it displayed in a public space. And this market has such a strong place in this neighborhood’s history.”
Over the course of the year, students in the arts program at the school visited the NURTUREart gallery each time a new exhibit went up – about 7 or 8 times in total. O’Brien said she noticed how the students went from being shy and nervous around the artwork to being more vocal and assertive in their interpretations and observations of the work, which ultimately inspired their own creative process as well.
In addition about 15 of the those students took part in an arts appreciation course also organized by NURTUREart where students toured local galleries and visited and spent time with local artists to get acquainted with the rich and diverse art community in the neighborhood.
The murals at the Moore Street Market will be on display until the Fall after which they will move back to the school, and a new group of students will fashion their brushstrokes to create another unique piece of art.