Temp sidewalk art teaches permanent lessons

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Orange hearts, a ferret, a potato man and fairies appear to have nothing in common. Yet these sidewalk drawings were the product of an important lesson in creativity.

Nina Seigenfeld, an exhibiting artist at Gallery 505 — Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corp.’s West 236th Street office and community space — taught rising middle schoolers from the Riverdale Community Center that the world can be their canvas and art could be found anywhere — if they learned to look close enough.

Seigenfeld worked with Janine Intervallo, an art instructor for the RCC summer camp program to organize a trip to the gallery and put together an artistic activity with the students. Intervallo’s RCC program is designed to keep kids engaged with academic and cultural enrichment.

“It was very serendipitous the way it happened, and we just figured (drawing with chalk) would be the best way to do this,” Seigenfeld said. “With kids, talking them to death doesn’t really work, so I figured if they could experience it themselves, it could be fun for them.”

Seigenfeld’s current work on display at Gallery 505 is a collection of photos featuring chalk art she created when she goes running. In cracks in the pavement, growing grass, a fallen flower or gum blot, Seigenfeld sees potential. She’ll stop running and use chalk to fill in the rest of the picture.

“It just looked like a face needed to be there, so I drew it in,” Seigenfeld said when explaining a drawing she made on a rock in Van Cortlandt Park.

For Seigenfeld, the world is her canvas, which is something Intervallo hoped her middle schoolers would learn more about during the field trip to Gallery 505.

“I really like the idea of letting kids know that there is art and other cultural activities in their neighborhood,” she said. “Now they know that (and think), ‘Oh, this is a place that has art that I can look at,’ and ‘there are people in my neighborhood making art.’”

After learning about Seigenfeld’s work, the RCC kids headed out to the sidewalk to make art of their own.

“They’re not usually out getting super messy and making art, so I think it’s really great for them,” Seigenfeld said. “For me, it’s great watching what they can come up with.” 

In addition to the accessibility of art, creativity was a key lesson of the day.

“Creative thinking doesn’t just apply to art,” Intervallo said, “but to all areas of life.”

Kids spending their free time in the summer exploring their creativity can help in the classroom, especially for those who struggle with standardized tests.

“Their brains might work a little differently,” Intervallo said. “You have to be able to get those kids to use their skills and hone in what they are. They could be very creative, and they have to learn how to apply it.”

Mastering that creativity now could help the youngsters when they look for jobs in early adulthood,.

“What do all people ask for now?” Intervallo said. “People who can think outside the box, creative problem solving, and you need to learn to use your creativity and open up your mind and see things in a new way in order to be creative.”

Seigenfeld didn’t let the kids have all the fun. She knelt down and drew one of her signature faces in blue chalk with grass growing in a crack for hair. Using grass in such a way was not an original idea, however. Seigenfeld actually was inspired by one of the sixth graders drawing a fairy hovering over another patch of grass.

“I love watching what they come up with,” she said. “They’re innately creative.”

While the kids worked hard to stretch their minds and creativity, a late afternoon thunderstorm would later wash it all away. It was almost as if it were part of the lesson plan — leaving the sidewalk to be the same blank canvas it started as.

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