Opinion: FSSA Fine Art Students Deserve Better

On October 19, 2019, senior art students Noor Selim and Nancy Prieto demonstrated the power of multiple voices, banding together and collecting 1,200 votes to bring back the Senior Art Gallery in Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA). Their commitment was acknowledged by the school administration, and amendments to replace the art gallery were put into action. The art majors appreciated the cooperation from Principal Gideon Frankel and were inspired to form the Senior Art Committee comprised of students and plan multiple art showings throughout the year. FSSA designated the second floor walkway as a dedicated space to create a gallery that exemplifies the power and commitment of the art students and their work.

As the annual Sinatra musical theatre production of “Hairspray” approaches at drastic speed, the Senior Art Committee assembled during its spare time before and after school to create a compelling gallery in the space that will open with the production next week. Mr. Liebeskind, the freshman art teacher, assisted the committee in building and painting white walls in the second floor walkway. The committee was allotted a budget of $500 for decorations to isolate the area and create an environment that resembles a real art gallery.

When committee members returned from Mid-Winter Recess, they were met with countless challenges imposed on the restrictions of the space. The exit doors couldn’t be blocked, and the doors must be visible from the staircase. In addition, the catwalk had to remain accessible so that people could be able to pass through the hall. The Art Committee remained focused and up to the challenge, facing and overcoming the obstacles. They refused to give up.

After meeting with Principal Frankel, Noor and Nancy realized that their vision for the galley was not shared. Principal Frankel wanted a gallery that displayed the work in a linear and simple fashion: White walls, artwork, only. In addition to the restricted conditions, the committee would not be allowed to charge a small fee to viewers to enter and enjoy the amazing work of the art students as was suggested.

The actions of the administration left art majors with a true sense of disappointment. Art students who were excited that their work was being acknowledged as a valuable resource, now realized that nothing changed since the art gallery was closed. The administration continues to set a low bar when it comes to displaying visual art. Art students demand and deserve more than the bare minimum when it comes to displaying their work and feel their creativity has been shut down once more.

The disappointment of the seniors is shared among the art majors that make up the majority of the FSSA school population. Art majors are subject to demeaning conditions when it comes to promoting and displaying their work. Visual Art never shares the spotlight with the performing arts and there is a lack of representation in the promotional materials distributed throughout the school community. This sends a clear message of inequity and unequal support from the upper ranks and does not contribute to the success or advancement of the major as a whole.

Setting up the new gallery space.

The school mission of Frank Sinatra has always been to depict the arts as they are in the professional world. The Tony Bennett Concert Hall is conducted in the same format as a Broadway show. The lighting, the stage, and the $500,000 new sound system all exemplify the quality of a professional theatre. The art department doesn’t receive the same treatment. Art is shoved into the Black Box during the Winter Concert and promoted as something to pass the time with while waiting for the real show to begin. The Art Show is given minimal time for preparation and curation, and inadequate space to exhibit the work of all four grades.

Going to an art school means having the opportunity to present my work in a professional way. Art majors work so hard and have lost hours of sleep creating the work they do,” said senior art major Noor Selim. “To not have this hard work and dedication recognized the same way as the other hard working majors at Sinatra feels degrading and unfair. Having this gallery space to display our work would mean getting the recognition we deserve and having that hard work pay off,” she said.

“I think the fact that the art department has been underfunded and the fact that this has been an ongoing problem is so disappointing. Whether that has been done intentionally or not, something has to be done about it and that’s why we created the Art Committee. A lot of effort is being put into this exhibition so I hope that there will be a supporting audience,” she added.

In the professional world, art makes money. It is no secret. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met brings in $55.06 million. The Museum of Modern Art, also known as MoMA, brings in an annual revenue of $145 million. These earnings are through admissions alone. An investment in an art gallery space, and quality promotion of art exhibitions could not only bring equal representation for art students, but would earn a profit to support the art department and school. Art shows could be presented in community warehouses, open spaces, or even actual galleries. The profits and benefits would outweigh the costs. Starting out with small gallery shows with a minimal fee (such as the $5 one suggested) the art department could be self-sufficient and fund their own exhibitions each year. 

The art students of FSSA believe in the value and draw of art. Our families and friends support our work and value artistic expression and would be honored to support the public display of FSSA art.

The students of the art department are grateful for where they are, the school they go to, the spaces they have, and the attention and passion from their teachers. Frank Sinatra is an exceptional school, with gifted and talented artists of all genres. There is no FSSA without all the departments and all the majors creating and showcasing their work. 

The committee understands Frank Sinatra is still a New York City public school and there are limitations with budgeting. If this were any other school, this wouldn’t be a possibility. The school is a gem among New York City Schools and values their professional standards. The art department wishes the standards could be shared among them as well.

The Art Committee proposed creative solutions to support the art department and have been met with resistance and doubt. We will continue to propose new ideas and hope that amendments can be made to support future exhibitions and represent art in a professional manner for the sake of future generations of FSSA art students.

As artists, we are disappointed by the actions of the administration and hope our creativity will not be shut down in the future, but instead celebrated and held up for the world to see. 

– by Jayden Ashley ’20

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those solely of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Bennett as a whole.