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Queens students celebrate social action artwork installation at Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows

Jun. 7, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed

Students from 11 public schools in Queens gathered at Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows on May 31 to celebrate their artwork that is now displayed on benches that address social issues afflicting them and their communities. 

The students’ brightly painted artwork, which will be on display through August, addresses a wide variety of issues such as racism, LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter, depression, homelessness, bullying, discrimination, mental health awareness, diversity and more. 

A bench painted by students of PS 41 Crocheron School is installed at Cunningham Park as part of the CEI Benchmarks program.Photo by Nick Karp

The initiative is part of a citywide NYC Parks summer exhibition, BENCHMARKS: Youth Setting the Standard for Social Change, created by the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) in partnership with the city Parks Department. 

CEI BENCHMARKS: Youth Setting the Standard for Social Change is a comprehensive, social-action arts program that inspires NYC public school students to speak out on major social issues they care about (racism, gender inequality, gun violence, bullying, pollution, etc.) through creating large-scale, issue-based murals on benches for public display in a high-profile citywide exhibition in NYC Parks – to affect social change. 

This year, Benchmarks served over 900 students in 30 schools citywide. 

The 11 Queens public schools that participated in this year’s program include:

  • IS 25 Adrien Block School
  • MS 226 Virgil I. Grissom School
  • PS 31 The Bayside School
  • MS 72 Catherine and Count Basie School
  • PS 41 Crocheron School
  • MS 137 America’s School of Heroes
  • PS/IS 266
  • PS 191 Mayflower School
  • PS/MS 124 Osmond A. Church School
  • PS 160 Walter Francis Bishop Magnet School of the Arts
  • PS 186 Castlewood School

Students of PS31Q The Bayside School celebrate the installation of their social action bench mural at Cunningham Park. The bench, created in the CEI Benchmarks program, will be on display through August.Photo by Nick Karp

In this program, teaching artists worked with students to explore social activism, examine social-action art and artists, survey the history and practice of public art, select and research a critical social issue and formulate a message for social change, and translate that message into a bench mural. 

“In this current climate, young people need a public platform to express themselves on current social issues in a constructive, creative and powerful way, so they can join the conversation and make a difference in our world,” said Alexandra Leff, creator of CEI Benchmarks and CEI executive director of Arts Education. “We are so proud of our students who have confronted major social issues through their beautiful and powerful bench murals. Their messages for social change on a wide array of critical issues will inspire hundreds of thousands of people this summer in our citywide parks exhibition.”

Jasgun Riar of M.S. 137 America’s School of Heroes speaks about her class’s bench mural that addresses racism and depression at Cunningham Park on May 31.Photo by Nick Karp

P.S. 160 student Joy Okindo gives an anti-bullying speech at Cunningham Park as part of the CEI Benchmarks program.Photo by Nick Karp

Photo by Nick Karp

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