Public Art for Public Schools: A Sneak Peek into Re:Form School

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“We’ve been up for almost three days straight,” says Yosi Sargent as he meets me at the doors of what was formerly the St. Patrick Old Cathedral School in downtown New York. Sargent is spearheading a team of volunteers, artists, nonprofit coordinators, and well-wishers who have been steadily working for three weeks to transform the recently-shuttered elementary school into a massive art show.

The fifteen rooms of the school are filled to the brim with the work of over 150 artists, including the likes of Shepard Fairey and Swoon. But it’s not just an enormous gallery space — the point of Re:Form School, as you might guess from the clever title, is to raise awareness about education reform. The pieces in the exhibit vary greatly in style, tone, materials, and methods, but they all evoke a sense of glee for the possibilities of learning. Click below for a sneak peek.

Renowned street artist WK Interact — known for, as Yosi put it, his “heavy motion” — made his piece by sitting down with students of the Harlem Success Academy. He blended together images of the children with drawings that they did as a classroom, and added some trademark WK Interact touches around the playground to create this mural, which wraps all the way around the courtyard.

Several installations — like this mischievous, pro-learning munchkin — address education in more obvious terms, but Sargent says that he tried to incorporate all takes on the issue, including more subtle appreciations of, say, science class. “We want to find a way to bring creativity to the table in reform — not just in art class or music class, but as part of the whole process. We separated church and state, not art and state.”

Alexis Anne McKenzie‘s delicate flower sculptures — and paintings — spell out messages in intricately twined stems. Her collages, each made from scraps of books that she painstakingly assembles, are in a geology/science themes room, along with several map-based projects.

This painstakingly-made pushpin mural is actually part of an animation project by Danielle Ash and Nicole Emmons. Behold the finished product:

Entrepreneur and artist Marc Ecko is bringing several pieces to Re:Form School, including these “Dead Prez” busts. Upstairs, he’s constructing an installation that will encourage kids to learn business savvy and skills so that they can strike out on their own. He’ll include some of the sneakers and t-shirts that students in his foundations programs have already designed. Homework just got way cooler.

Also in the science room: the chalkboard stylings of Eric Anderson, famous for his Whole Foods sandwich boards. Here, a Michel Gondry hammer-contraption is being installed. In addition to the paintings and sculpture already on display, the weekend includes a visit from rapper Lupe Fiasco, a class teaching kids how to silk screen, and moving installations by several artists that had yet to be completed on my visit. After a few more sleepless nights, we’re guessing the school looks better than ever.

For more information on the show, which runs October 9th through 11th, visit Re:Form School’s website.