Young, gifted and hanging in the Guggenheim

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Typically, the best venue a child’s artwork will get is hanging on the face of a refrigerator door. The students of P.S. 86-Kingsbridge Heights School have changed the game, however, moving their works straight past kitchen appliances to the walls of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

“I saw Frida Kahlos, Picassos, and like I’m being treated like a real artist,” said Kylie Marte, a sixth-grader who had her sculpture displayed at the museum as part of the school’s Learning Through Art program. 

Her art teacher, Jeff Hopkins, chose Marte to attend the opening reception at the museum — one of only a few children selected to bring their families.

“Kylie stands out in the classroom,” Hopkins said. “She works really hard and she’s very enthusiastic, and she always has her hand up. We wanted to have someone that could not only talk to an audience about their art, but be excited about it.” 

Hopkins not only teaches students about artists, but different artistic media as well, like sculpting, illustration and paintings.

“At times I feel like I’m showing them,” he said. “But in turn, they show me what it’s like to see things through the eyes of a sixth-grader.” 

The Learning Through Art program is part of the Guggenheim in partnership with public schools across all five boroughs. The program works with students ranging between second and sixth grade, and now boasts 16 residencies throughout the city. 

The program gives students a chance to visit the Guggenheim on a somewhat regular basis, building comfort in the space. Over time, they begin to see it as their own, said associate director Greer Kudon.

The program consists of 20 sessions taught by an artist, after which the students’ work is shown within the internationally renowned museum. This year’s exhibit, A Year With Children 2018, continues through June 13. The Guggenheim has celebrated children’s artwork for nearly 50 years.

“I feel kind of happy, excited and a little nauseous,” Cari Mata said. “I feel kind of special, too, because lots of people are coming here to see my art and ask me questions.”

The fourth-grader drew a portrait of herself after looking at a variety of similar work by artists like Jacob Lawrence, Liu Xiadong, Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, her favorite. Mata’s portrait was a representation of her own personality as well of her likeness, with her hair styled in slight resemblance to Kahlo’s classic “updo.”

In school districts not well-funded, arts education programs are, more often than not, the first to go. Kudon see’s firsthand the value in art through the Guggenheim program. And as a mother of two, she encourages art within her own children because of the different experience and opportunities it offers. 

“I love art, and I think that it really helps create a more well-rounded individual,” Kudon said. “This allows students to find success in nontraditional ways.

“Art can be a huge part of our life. I think this is a great opportunity for students who are under-appreciated in other subjects to shine here. Kids that are not necessarily good at math or writing can share their passions here.”

Before the rest of the guests arrived for the reception, the students were given the chance to look at their displayed art with their families. Their presence transformed the museum into an art classroom filled with eager children ready to show their parents what they had been working on all year long. 

Their vibrant work stood boldly against the eggshell tone of the wide room.

“This exhibition validates art in a child’s life,” Kudon said. “They feel empowered. I mean there’s a Picasso painting two floors below us, and they understand that.” 

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