News | Morningside Heights

Students and artists sculpt American dream

“Freedom is lunch.”

This is one local elementary school student’s idea of the American dream—now engraved onto a red, white, and blue sculpture called “Dream Outside the Box,” which was constructed this month in the middle of a city sidewalk outside local P.S. 163.

This sculpture—a 20-foot long, 10-foot tall interlocking of boxes representing the American flag—is part of a collaboration between P.S. 163 on 97th Street and a trio of New York City public artists called the Animus Arts Collective.

Funded by the NYC Department of Transportation, this sculpture was installed on October 9 by the three artists of the collective, Preston Dane, Annie Vainchenker, and David Ort, and will continue to light up the wide sidewalk until at least September 2010.

Carved next to quotes from famous historical thinkers and philosophers are short responses of local elementary school students on what they think the American dream means.

“Our point of view of the piece explores the fact that there’s a plurality to the American dream,” Preston Dane, one of the three collaborating artists, said. “There is no one overriding idea of the American dream and together the collective ensemble of these dreams creates the whole of the American dream,” he added.

The Collective brought the idea to a local nonprofit, the Action Arts League, which set them up with the Department of Transportation’s Urban Art Program. The department was able to supply the necessary cash to bring this large flag to the Upper West Side.

“Their point is all about reaching out to the community and kids, trying to be more community-oriented rather than some sort of bureaucratic machine,” Dane said of the Department of Transportation’s involvement in this art program.

Animus partnered with the Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program at P.S. 163 and led after-school sessions allowing students to participate in the creation of the sculpture.

On Wednesday afternoon, just as school was dismissed for the day, parents and other passersby agreed that the sculpture really changed the feel of the street by bringing an important message—in bright colors—to the neighborhood.

Myra Espinal, a mother of two children who attend the school and local resident for five years, said, “I think everybody loves it,” adding, “This neighborhood has many different opinions with grown-ups and kids and this definitely brings them all together.”

Sarah Palmer, a fifth-grader whose quote was chosen for the sculpture, said that she liked that the piece had become very popular in the neighborhood. “I always see people taking pictures of it outside,” she said.

Others said that it only made a minor difference on the busy block. “It’s had a positive effect,” Donna Dorio, a school aide of three years, said. “But no, I haven’t noticed a lot of change.”

Yet for Raegan Truax, the director of P.S. 163’s after-school program LEAP, the installation was most exciting because of the pride in the students who see the success of their work every time they exit the school grounds.

“The kids love it. They really respect it. They don’t climb on it. They’re very proud of their work,” Truax said, adding, “It’s exciting for the kids to see it come to fruition and to see their classmates’ names outside.”

For Dane, the project was an opportunity for some students to think outside the box. “They really got it and made very thoughtful stuff,” he said.

Still, Dane admitted that for other students, the sculpture was an outlet to appreciate the simplest things in elementary school life. “Freedom is still lunch, you know. You have people working nine to five and they’re still looking forward to lunch.”


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