The art world can be competitive, as the elementary school students in the Educational Alliance’s summer program at P.S. 142 will tell you. Today, about a dozen 4th-6th graders went head to head in an Art Battle tournament, the culmination of a visual arts project that began six weeks ago. In each round, two competitors were given five minutes to create a painting, and then their peers voted for whichever piece they judged better. Winners continued to battle on in the next round, vying for a chance to win a fitting prize: a set of art supplies.
Andrea Fennewald stood on, cheering on the young artists battling and applying face paint to spectators. No stranger to the intersection of art and philanthropy, Fennewald is the director and founder of the Manhattan Apparel Project, a socially conscious fashion brand whose proceeds fund art classes for NYC children. In an effort to connect more children with inspiring artists and their work, last spring she reached out to the Educational Alliance and Art Battles, an organization that hosts large-scale face-offs between artists around the globe. After successfully coordinating a few events with the Educational Alliance, she conceived of a rough plan for the summer program: a different Art Battle veteran would visit with youngsters at PS 142 each week for six weeks, ending in the kids’ own Art Battle.
For Sean Bono, Fennewald’s suggestion came at a good time. A painter who co-founded Art Battles in 2001, Bono had just finished a tour of Europe with the group, and wanted a chance to give back right at home. “We thought it would be a perfect fit,” he said, watching contestants painting swiftly onstage. “We wanted to do a little something for the education system in New York City.” Other artists involved in Art Battles quickly volunteered their time, and the project took off.
According to the Education Alliance’s Kendra Newbergh, the Art Battles project has been great for the youngsters in the summer program at PS 142. She noted that the visiting artists have really taken a shine to their pupils. “Honestly,” she admitted, “I was a little worried that these artists weren’t going to be patient with these kids. But it’s worked out really well; they’ve been so excited to share what they do.”
Chances to create visual art are a rarity for most of the summer program’s kids—Newbergh says some of their public schools don’t even offer art classes. “We’re constantly trying to get them exposed to different things outside of what they see each day,” she said, “so that they see how big the world is. They can think, ‘Oh, I can become an artist.’”
She did want to make one clarification: usually, art programming isn’t so competitive. “This is the first time we’re doing winners and losers,” she said, glancing at the kids painting frantically on stage. “Normally, it’s not like this.”