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Citizens Union


Board of Education Hosts Student Performers

In The News: (may '00)

The Board of Education hardly springs to mind when one thinks of New York City cultural institutions. But every Monday for one idyllic hour this most embattled of NY bureaucracies is transformed into the city's newest -- if most unusual -- performance venue. Since March dozens of student singers, poets, actors, dancers, and musicians -- all culled from NYC public schools -- have appeared through a new program, Arts Mondays.

This initiative is the brainchild of Harold O. Levy, currently interim schools chancellor but said to have the inside track on a permanent appointment. According to Levy, Arts Mondays "are a terrific celebration of the children of the public schools of New York City, the world capital of the arts."

While this program is designed to showcase talented students, it is also a way to motivate administrators in a very direct, personal way. Those who work at the Board of Education have few opportunities to interact with students -- their raison d'etre. Similarly, students are not a common sight at Livingston Street.

Executive Assistant to the Chancellor Jonathan Levi explained. "When we see the discipline and passion of the young performers in front of us, we marvel at their commitment and renew our own. Arts Mondays are about crystallizing for ourselves the importance of the arts in our students' educations."

In the last three years, arts education programs in City schools have grown prodigiously, thanks to Project Arts and the Center for Arts Education. Each year arts education funding has increased until now, for the 1999-2000 school year, Levy reports that "every one of the 1,100 schools in the system has a program dedicated to the arts."

Thus far Arts Mondays have presented a generous sampling of students' artistic passions. These include jazz from Bayside High School teenagers, aspiring poets from Stuyvesant High School, a musical theatre showcase and poetry recitation by, respectively, Brooklyn and Bronx elementary students and, not least, opera. This last is a known favorite of the Mayor, although he has not yet been sighted in the lunchtime crowd. No matter, the audiences for Arts Mondays are probably better off without Giuliani right in their midst, especially if there are any more programs like the very first waiting in the wings: That's when students from Talent Unlimited High School sang selections from "Working," the musical based upon a book by that famously pro-union octogenarian Studs Terkel.

Arts Mondays performances will continue at the Board of Education through the school year.

Rhonda Sounds Off:

The culture wars haven't been going so well for the Mayor lately. First there was the Brooklyn Museum mess and the City's ultimate capitulation. Then that German artist used him over at the Whitney in a most unflattering way. Now even his own home is no sanctuary.

Donna Hanover, the Mayor's wife, is about to take a turn in "The Vagina Monologues." This extraordinary feminist play by Eve Ensler celebrates women, and like the title says, their vaginas -- as well as many other parts, including hearts and minds. (I saw it a few years ago and believed then, as now, that everyone should see it, regardless of the player.)

But Ms. Hanover's most recent foray into thespianism is hardly the kind of vote-getting strategy a Republican senatorial candidate might choose for his spouse. Still, one explanation might be that this simply illustrates what a truly liberated 21st century kind of guy Donna married -- one who would never even dream of limiting her activities. Here's another theory: familiarity breeds contempt. In this case though it may well breed more, or at least more effective contempt than can be mustered by even the Mayor's less personal critics. Let's hear it for family values.

Rhonda Zangwill is a writer, editor and teacher in New York City. She does not claim to be a critic, but she knows what she likes. She has been published in various special interest and trade journals, even some that are still in existence.

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