Steinhardt, public school students ‘Standing Tall’

Jonathan Tan/WSN

Every day, countless school-aged children bring home paintings and drawings to be proudly displayed on their family fridges, but few have the opportunity to have their work exhibited publicly. Even fewer have the chance to take part in an art therapy exhibit.

On Monday, Nov. 11, children from three different New York City public schools gathered on the eighth floor of the Kimmel Center for University Life with their families, teachers and art therapists for a reception to celebrate the opening of an exhibition featuring their artistic creations. The exhibit, titled “Standing Tall: Celebrating Resiliency in the NYU Art Therapy In Schools Program,” features 80 life-sized portraits created by students between the ages of 6 and 17. It runs until Jan. 2.

Students from Millennium High School and Public Schools 6 and 124 spent months creating their portraits in afterschool art therapy programs. The brightly hued drawings, which now cover the walls of the eighth floor lounge, depict the children in various poses.

Accompanying each portrait is a small card bearing each child’s name, school, triggers that induce stress, a coping mechanism they can use and a personal attribute that makes them proud. On the evening of the reception, the artists ran through the halls on the eighth floor, proudly showed off their portraits to their families, and posed for photos with their art.

Lindsay Wright, associate dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, kicked off the event by congratulating the students.

“You’ve created extraordinary portraits of strength, resilience, resolve and confidence,” Wright said.

Marygrace Berberian, director of the Steinhardt Art Therapy in Schools program, encouraged parents to support their children’s creativity.

“Most families in distress do not have the resources to get their children outside resources,” Berberian said. “So it needs to be offered at the school level to be accessible to all.”

The Art Therapy in Schools program, which began in 1997, offers free art therapy to students in public schools as a means of expression for children with troubling behaviors or other difficulties

“Everyone can utilize and benefit from art therapy,” Yaritza Torres, a 17-year-old Millennium student, said in her address to the audience. “When we’re not aware of problems, we can’t tackle them. But when we’re aware of them, we can evaluate them and tackle them completely.”

Eden Rollé, an 11-year-old student at P.S. 124, agreed that she also benefitted from her four years in art therapy.

“I remember coming home and feeling so empowered by how open and how encouraging the teaching staff was,” Rollé said.  “They really just let me be me.”

Current funding allows 95 students between the three public schools to participate in the program. The exhibition, however, allowed for the program to sponsor large workshops for entire schools.

“Art always captivates what’s alive and strong about individuals,” Berberian said. “And we have so many more children that want to be in art therapy than we can serve.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 14 print edition. Julianne McShane is a contributing writer. Email her at [email protected]