June 10, 2022 By Alexandra Adelina Nita
Queens students from seven different schools have hand-painted several park benches at Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a means to address social issues such as racism, gun violence, gender inequality, homelessness, anti-LGBTQIA discrimination and environmental justice.
The artwork, which the students unveiled earlier this month, with be on display at the park until Sept. 16—and is located along New York Avenue by the entrance to the Pitch and Putt Golf Course.
The benches were painted as part of a citywide student arts residency program called CEI Benchmarks: Youth Setting the Standard– a program developed by the nonprofit Center For Educational Innovation.
The students from Queens who were part of the program attend the following schools: Catherine and Count Basie MS 72; Virgil I. Grissom JHS 226; Louis F. Simeone PS 7; Queens Transition Center 752; Osmond A Church PS/MS 124; The Lorraine Tuzzo, Juniper Valley Elementary School PS 128; and The Riverview School 277.
Students in the program participated in instruction on the history of public art and its relationship with activism. They also had an opportunity to lead peer workshops and meet with guest artists. This year’s guest artists were Domingo Zapata, Federico Solmi and Jordan Seaberry.
Zapata is a Neo-Expressionist painter and sculptor. Solmi is a multimedia artist whose work critiques American society through a dystopian lens. Seaberry is a painter and organizer for prisoners’ rights who received a Rhode Island Foundation fellowship in 2017.
The culmination of the program began with a kickoff event on May 26 at Washington Square Park in Manhattan. It was followed by the formal unveiling of the benches on June 3. Benches were not only painted in Flushing Meadows Corona Park but also in select locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The program’s coordinators emphasized the importance of the arts to students.
“In this current climate, young people need a public platform to express themselves on current social issues in a constructive, creative and powerful way, so they can join the conversation and make a difference in our world,” said Alexandra Leff, the creator of CEI Benchmarks and CEI Executive Director of Arts Education.
Students discussed their artwork and what inspired it during the unveiling.
“Our bench is about inequality” said students Ava McBeatch and Gabriella Giampa from The Lorraine Tuzzo, Juniper Valley Elementary School.
“We think it’s not fair how people of different nationalities, genders, or skin colors are treated differently. It was fun to make this bench together, to meet new people, to work together and talk to each other.”