May 14 saw the kickoff of one of New York City’s most wide-ranging public art projects: ten artworks addressing critical social issues, installed in ten public parks in all five boroughs.

The artists were eleven, twelve, and thirteen years old, and their canvases were school lunchroom tables.

A rally in Manhattan’s Union Square launched the 2016 edition of “A View from the Lunchroom: Students Bring Issues to the Table,” the ninth annual citywide exhibition of the Public Art Program of the nonprofit LeAp(Learning through an Expanded Arts Program).

Aided by teaching artists associated with LeAp, middle school students from ten schools across the city covered cafeteria tables with bright, mural-style images addressing problems like gun violence, teen pregnancy, gun violence, bullying, racism, the fate of animals, and climate change.

The art-tables will remain in the parks through August. LeAp calls the show the largest student exhibition ever held in the city’s park system.

The kickoff event showed off all the horizontal murals, and featured speeches by a roster of heavyweight city officials, including NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer, and Deputy Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kristin Sakoda – but kids spoke too, explaining how they hope to influence change through the impact of their art on park visitors who sit at the tables.

As one young artist says in a video of the event on LeAp’s website, “When people see our project over the summer, we hope they will think, know, or realize that their actions have consequences, and anyone can make a difference, no matter how big or small they are.”

LeAp, founded in the 1970s during a time of drastic school budget cuts that were eliminating arts education, partners with city schools to integrate the arts into K-12 curricula, particularly focusing on how art can foster engagement with other subjects, like math, history, and social studies. Its Public Art Program, founded in 2007, not only fosters the annual lunchroom-table project, but also introduces the students to major public artists – Mark diSuvero, Jenny Holzer, Vito Acconci, Christo, and many more – in schools or via studio and exhibition visits.

Written by staff of Public Art Review.

[Featured as a web-only piece] during publication of Public Art Review #54.