"Your art journey begins here."
That message from Amie Robinson to her students is posted on her classroom door. And for many of those students, that journey has taken their artwork from the classroom at PS 77, a District 75 school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Today, Alex Trinidad's pen-and-ink drawing of a city of the future and Ian Ayler's etching of a face are hanging in the Met as part of a PSArts Exhibition through Oct. 20. Roger Ng's photographs, exhibited at the Brooklyn Borough Art Fair, were recently on display at the Brooklyn Museum.
The journey begins with art history, learning about artists for inspiration and about different art periods, styles and materials. "I want them to understand that in art there is no one right way but multiple points of view around the same idea," Robinson explained.
As the only visual arts teacher at the school, Robinson works with the same special education students through their middle and high school years, so she is able to develop a strong relationship with each of them.
"There are so many talented students," she said, "and art gives them a voice. For some it's therapeutic and for others it's a way to find peace."
Trinidad, a senior, wants to be an architect, and his work took off when he was introduced to a British artist doing the same kind of drawing he was doing. He worked with his English teacher to write a brief essay to describe his work for the Met exhibition, noting in it, "Being an artist brings me joy."
Ayler, a 7th-grader, created his winning work — titled "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" — as a result of a project on printmaking. "I like to make art cause it tells a story," he wrote in his essay.
Working with students early in her art career as a curator in a Chelsea museum education program and working with her special needs sister, Robinson decided 15 years ago to strengthen that connection by becoming a teacher.
She considers it important for her students to have an opportunity to show their work for the pride it engenders. In borough and city competitions, PS 77 artists are "holding their own," Robinson says.
Their bold abstracts, portraits, designs and sketches fill the halls and stairwells at PS 77, and a recently completed mural just outside their classroom, based on the work of a South African artist, is only the beginning of plans for murals to cover all the hallway walls.
When she starts a class project in a new medium and discovers one or two students who show a particular interest in it, Robinson works with them during lunch hours and free periods and encourages them to take their projects home to work on. She also started a sketch book club.
This school year Robinson and her students will venture into mosaics. She took a class to prepare for the new medium and received a grant to buy supplies. The final step in the process of learning about the art form and creating their own patterns and designs will be assembling thousands of fragments of tiles for a mosaic in the courtyard garden of the school.
"Art," she said, "is not one class period but a process and brainstorming. Students sometimes work together, sometimes alone, and as they work they start to see how art connects to other areas."
Robinson connected with social studies teacher Sarah McDowell to co-teach a class combining world events and art, focusing one year on the refugee crisis.
"I love teaching about something heavy and real," McDowell said. She took the first half of the period to explore with the class what caused the crisis and what was happening to families and to children like themselves.
Robinson, who has taught art to children in a Greek refugee camp during past summers, was able to set up an exchange of art between her students and children in the camp.
McDowell declared the project a "huge victory" that gave the PS 77 students more empathy and a better understanding of the world. That empathy motivated them to design and make colorful bookmarks, CD covers, large and small spiral sketch books and a host of other items to sell to raise funds for art supplies for the children in the refugee camp.
"It was amazing to see," McDowell said.