For budding artists, Bloomberg makes it rain

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Bloomberg speaking at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Dan Rosenblum)
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It was an unusual opening yesterday that prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to wax poetic, and prosaic, about the value of art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's P.S. Art featured a gallery of the works of 74 New York City public-school students, unveiled in a ground-floor multipurpose room by proud parents, principals and students.

Bloomberg, schools chancellor Dennis Walcott and arts education advocate Caroline Kennedy all spoke, along with some of the museum’s leaders. Proud parents filmed the occasion with iPhones and camcorders. 

Peggy Fogelman, the museum’s chairman of education, introduced the program, part of which led her to read some of the students’ statements.

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One was from a third-grader at a school in Brooklyn: “When people look at my artwork, I want them to see that there is beauty in the simplest image. I took a picture of a puddle, but when I saw the photograph there was much more there than a puddle.”

Bloomberg, a public-private patron of the arts, picked up on this theme when he spoke a few minutes afterward.

“Far be it from me to correct you on something in your museum, but you said you apologize for the inclement weather," he said to Fogelman. "And I prefer to look at it as God trying to paint a canvas so that we could all enjoy what’s wonderful about the city. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s dry, sometimes it, uh, is covered with snow. But today it is water that is making our city, and water that is something that life depends on, so that’s why I personally arranged for the rain today.”

The audience members laughed.

Speaking directly to the young artists, the mayor said, “I don’t know that it’s more saleable because its provenance now says ‘hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,’ but I don’t see any reason why you can’t on the back of it put a little piece of paper describing where it was. And if somebody wants to come along and help you as a starving young artist be able to do some more, than you should do that.”

The effort was a collaboration between the city department of education, the philanthropic organization Fund for Public Schools as well as Studio in a School, which brings professional artists into schools. Groups like those, as well as and parent-teacher associations, are significant contributors to school arts funding. According to the department of education's metric for arts funding, last year's funding level of $316 million was equal to the level of the four prior years at around three percent of the D.O.E. budget, though it briefly rose as high as $326 million in the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

Bloomberg, a former trustee of the museum and a bit of an art collector himself, joked that the museum always put him on the development committee, in charge of soliciting donations.

The chosen students got free passes to the museum for the duration of the annual show, which runs until August before moving to the D.O.E. headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse.

After the public ceremony, one of the artists, seven-year-old Vernon Holness, posed for pictures with Walcott and then Kennedy.

Holness, who has sickle-cell anemia and worked with another student on a tempera and tissue paper zebra for the exhibit, said the event made him “excited.”

“Normally he’s going into the hospital for treatments and he has to get transfusions, but thank God, he’s been good and he’s focused and he got to take care of his art work properly,” said his father, Vernon Holness Sr. “He concentrated and did the right thing, so I’m pretty happy about that.”