Shaping the “P.S. Art 2021” Exhibition

Despite disruptions caused by Covid-19, New York City public school students rose to the challenges of remote learning and created artworks in an impressive range of subject, media, and form. A rich selection of these works will be on display at P.S. Art 2021, the annual exhibition organized by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Studio in a School NYC. The exhibit, featuring works from students in pre-K through 12th grade, is comprised of 153 drawings, paintings, prints, collages, sculptures, photographs and digital works. It will be on view at The Met’s Uris Center starting June 17.

Studio NYC plays a key role in P.S. Art each year, co-facilitating the selection process, collecting and documenting all submissions, and preparing artworks for the exhibition. Together with the DOE, we nominate and convene the selection panel—a group of specialists with expertise in fine arts and arts education.

The P.S. Art 2019 selection panel convened at Studio in a School NYC to observe and discuss students’ submissions. Artworks are reviewed by ‘grade bands’: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. From left: Daniel Kershaw, guest juror – artist Fred Wilson, Barbara Gurr, Agnes Gund; (back row) Karen Rosner (not a juror), Marlene Graham, Tom Cahill. Photograph by Elsa Ruiz.

Selecting art for the exhibition is no small feat. In previous years, jurors would gather in person to view and discuss the submissions, but Covid-19 restrictions moved the process online, eliminating reviewers’ ability to experience materials and scale firsthand. For 2021, Studio NYC welcomed back five jurors from previous years: Tom Cahill, President, Studio Institute; Marlene Graham, Program Manager, Education, International Center of Photography; Agnes Gund, Founder of Studio in a School Association and President Emerita, Museum of Modern Art; Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Anne Strauss, independent curator and art consultant. Two new jurors joined the selection panel, Alison Scott-Williams, President of Studio NYC, and Maria Palma, Executive Director of the DOE Office of Arts and Special Projects.

The P.S. Art 2021 selection panel: (top left) Agnes Gund, Founder of Studio in a School Association and President Emerita, Museum of Modern Art (photograph by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders); Titus Kaphar, artist, founder of NXTHVN (photograph by Merik Goma); Anne Strauss, independent curator and art consultant; Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Marlene Graham, Program Manager, Education, International Center of Photography; Maria Palma, Executive Director, DOE Office of Arts and Special Projects; Alison Scott-Williams, President, Studio NYC; and Tom Cahill, President, Studio Institute.

Studio NYC invites a renowned artist to serve as a guest juror each year. Previous guests have included sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard (2020) and multidisciplinary artist and native New Yorker Fred Wilson (2019). We were thrilled that Titus Kaphar, a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, accepted our invitation to join the P.S. Art 2021 jury. His paintings, sculptures, and installations confront history, challenging the status quo and capturing uncertainties of our time. Kaphar commented, “I was honored to be selected by Studio NYC as a juror for this year’s P.S. Art exhibition. I couldn’t believe how many submissions we received—each was creative, thoughtful, and sincere.”

The 2020-2021 school year was extremely challenging as students worked with limited resources and materials and with a mix of in-person and remote learning. Yet, the open call for P.S. Art 2021 drew 782 works, with a significant rise in digital art and photography submissions compared with previous years. In addition, there was unprecedented turnout from 12th graders both in quality and quantity because older students are capable of producing art with less oversight than younger students.

The field was narrowed to 289 pieces, with the selection panel choosing the final 153 works, 25 more than last year.

For the jury of P.S. Art 2021, reviewing almost 300 student artworks proved gratifying. Maria Palma said, “While I am not a visual artist myself, I am most certainly an assessment ‘geek’ and am always in wonder of the impact of a productive feedback tool and critique procedure. The holistic rubric and entire P.S. Art 2021 review of work was truly an epiphany! To be able to view the diverse work by grade level, assess the unique merits of each work, and make what one could only hope was a discernment from among the talented entries was a very gratifying and satisfying experience.”

Kaphar commented, “I believe that creativity is the wellspring of innovative solution to the world’s biggest challenges and that it is only through creativity and imagination that we will redefine the future of ourselves, our communities, and our world. Studio NYC, the DOE Office of Arts and Special Projects, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art are leaders in youth arts programming, and provide a model for how we can support our next generation of creative thinkers, and truly invest in a better future.”

In addition to our continued engagement in shaping the P.S. Art exhibition, each year Studio NYC provides Excellence in the Arts Awards to graduating high school seniors with the highest scores whose work is featured in exhibition. This year, 27 students—a record number—will receive $1,000 each for college, art supplies, or other activities that will further their growth as artists and scholars. The awards are another example of Studio NYC’s ongoing commitment to nurture creativity in students in New York City public schools.

P.S. Art 2021 team at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. From left: Dan Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager (MET), Karen Rosner, Director of Visual Arts (DOE), Amber Lodman, Arts Program Manager (DOE), Yessica Manan, Assistant Manager, Venue Operations and Audience Services (MET), Saul Chernick, Director, Professional Development (Studio NYC).