This past weekend, 150+ contemporary artists came together from across the country to take part in RE:FORM SCHOOL, a combination group art exhibition, event series and public awareness campaign in a call for the reform of the American Public Education System.
The space, St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School––which was, until shutting its door for good at the end of the ’09/’10 school-year, New York City’s oldest operating parochial day-school––functioned as both philanthropic fundraiser and creative community activity fair; with art contributed by such notables as Shepard Fairey, Marc Ecko, Swoon, Michael Murphy, and Maya Hayuk covering just about every spare surface in the classrooms, hallways and bathroom stalls.
Spanning the full length and width of former classroom’s wall was Michael Murphy’s “USA Pencil Install”: a map of the United States composed of several thousand neon eraser-capped pencils, which were plugged into a blank white wall and appropriated in such a way that each neon color represented a percentile average for the high-school graduation rate of a given US state.
Those state left sans pencil––such as California, Texas, and Florida––have the lowest graduation rates of all: 50.5-66.9%. Murphy is a working artist from Milledgeville, GA, where he has taught college-level computer courses, despite the state’s significantly low high-school grad rate, for the past seven years. In 2009, his portrait of now President Barack Obama––a 3D tangle of high-tension wire with carefully composed negative space–– was displayed in DC for the presidential inauguration. His pieces are typically high-concept and highly successful.
For Murphy, art and education share sentimental similarities: he makes art as a way to “give back to people,”; teaching is an “act of generosity.” The pencil install was assembled with much help from a group of his own students.
On display in one of the heavily trafficked stairwells, Patrick Martinez’s 3 x 4 creation of yellow and pink neon tubing––boy, there was a lot of neon in this show!––reads, I DON’T LIKE TO DREAM ABOUT GETTING PAID, in large capital letters.
The entrepreneurial artist Marc Ecko had three outsize, caricatured busts displayed in a prominent first floor hallway. Below each cartoonish head, the wording “DEAD PREZ” was etched into the creamy, marble-looking stone, in a sadfunny statement about the quality of education in the American Public School system. [* Editorial note: We have since received confirmation that the busts “were, in fact, real marble.”]
Early on, much of the art––including five original black-and-white prints by NYC street photographer Damon Pablo––is sold to arts patrons and collectors, for the direct profit of the Urban Arts Partnership. The UAP is a New York based initiative for the advancement of intellectual, social and artistic development of underserved public school students through arts-integrated education programs working to close the achievement gap; and a co-sponsor, along with Redu, Bing, the CAA Foundation and Etsy, among others.
Perhaps most impressive: children, young adults and slightly-less-young adults were invited over the course of the weekend to participate in an unprecedented, star-studded, and free flash arts camp.
On Saturday afternoon, Lupe Fiasco and DJ Spazecraft 1 led the WORLD UP Human Orchestra, a hybridized freestyle-hip-hop-poetry-slam workshop for kids ages 10-18––which, via technology, was broadcast to a classroom in Brazil, in real time, for simultaneous participation. The take-away: self-expression, self-actualization, and open dialog.
Ken Swift, of the Rock Steady Crew, gave a free Beat Breakers breakdancing class on Sunday. Beat Breakers is an alternative after-school program open to children in the New York City public school system.
The incredibly successful project was spearheaded by Yosi Sergant, a Los Angeles publicist and friend of the arts perhaps best known for his management and commissioning of Shepard Fairey’s “HOPE” poster for President Obama’s 2008 electoral campaign.