Laura Nash, the art teacher at PS 205 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, has always loved creating paintings of the plants at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. When COVID-19 hit in 2020 and she couldn’t visit the garden, she poured her energy into growing plants at home. That “home jungle,” as she calls it, became the subject of her paintings at an exhibition by the New York City Art Teachers Association/UFT at El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 in East Harlem.
Nash’s paintings were among the pieces by 40 artists, all public school art educators in the five boroughs, whose work was on display in January at NYCATA’s first in-person art show since the pandemic began. At the opening reception on Jan. 6, about 200 people came out to celebrate and to admire the educators’ creativity.
“Seeing each other in person was so wonderful,” said Jackie Cruz, a retired art teacher and NYCATA’s secretary, who helped plan the exhibition and contributed her photography. Beneath the celebratory atmosphere, Cruz said, were cathartic conversations and camaraderie as art educators “talked about the struggles they’d been through, how difficult it was to teach through Zoom, and how happy they were now to come together.”
The theme of the exhibition was Metamorphosis, and contributing artists, including both in-service UFT members and retirees, shared a diverse array of work including painting, photography, sculpture and mixed media.
Mario Asaro, NYCATA’s executive chair, said the committee was inspired by the idea that the beginning of the COVID pandemic was “similar to the Dark Ages — a modern-day plague,” and that now, as people gather together more safely with “music, drinks and laughter,” it’s “a sort of renaissance.” The theme encouraged artists to reflect on the changes they’ve undergone through these shifts.
NYCATA’s programming, which continued via Zoom during the pandemic, includes exhibitions, workshops and presentations, sometimes solely for art educators and sometimes also for students.
Nash said NYCATA’s programming gives her and her colleagues “the opportunity to be artists together.”