American students and Israeli students might speak different languages, but they have learned another way to communicate: through art.
Four years ago, the American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the museum’s education department launched an art exchange program. Originally intended to connect students in New York and Tel Aviv, the program now includes 16 schools in the United States and Canada, in addition to Israeli institutions. Students — age 12 or younger — create art celebrating their families and their hometowns, and three times a year they send their creations across the Atlantic to their counterparts. At the end of each year, a mural of the children’s work is created for display at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
“We do all sorts of things to promote the Tel Aviv Museum,” Dorey Neilinger, executive director of the American Friends, told the Forward. “But as far as reaching out and contacting other people, this has absolutely been the most exciting thing for us.”
On February 6, the program will come out of the classroom for a public display. Its second annual Family Art Day will be held on Pier 92 in Manhattan. In addition to displaying the artwork created in 2004, the event will feature interactive sessions that will introduce young people to the works of famous artists of the 20th century.
“We’ll put down craft paper on the floor [so they can experiment] like Jackson Pollock,” said Jodie Dady, vice chair of the art exchange program committee. “Or they can do Chagall windows [in another session].” Other hands-on projects include “Make a Miro,” “Create a Calder,” “Shape Up a Mondrian” and “Outline a Keith Haring.”
Dady said her daughter, Jillian, first inspired the program. Having looked at a few Jewish schools when Jillian was 5, Dady was surprised to learn that there was no real connection to Israel. She spoke to the principals of various Jewish schools in Manhattan about the idea of an exchange, and encouraged her friends to act as liaisons between these schools and the American Friends.
Since then, the program has exploded, expanding beyond its original core of Jewish venues. Today, schools in Toronto, Chicago and Alabama with children from a multitude of backgrounds — Muslim, black, Asian, Hispanic — all participate in the exchanges. Through art, they are able to explore their diverse experiences and to discover their similarities to students in Israel.
“A little boy in Heschel [Day School] looked at one of these pictures and said, ‘Hey! This picture looks like me!’” Neilinger said.
Not only can children teach each other about who they are and where they live, but they also can educate parents and teachers about children’s experiences half a world away.
Yael Borovich, director and curator of education at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, said that Israeli and North American students alike discover “that art is the common language that we can all speak.”
“It is a way we can express ourselves that others might understand,” she said.
Family Art Day will be held on Pier 92, on 55th Street in Manhattan, from noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 6. A kosher buffet lunch and an ice cream sundae bar will be provided. Suggested donation for a family of four is $200. For more information, call 212-319-0555.