Mister Artsee’s mascot truck (courtesy Mister Artsee)

Mister ArtSee, a non-profit that promotes art education in public schools, has received an in-kind donation of over 100,000 art education books and kits to be distributed to underserved children and NYC public schools. The anonymous gift, valued at over $2 million, is the largest single donation of art education supplies for schools in the city’s history, the non-profit says.

The kits include a series of children art books created by art historians and educators Janet Boris, Walter Hopps, and Deborah Schwartz. The books educate children on the works and biographies of Frida Kahlo, Robert Ryman, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein.

The books are accompanied with art supplies that represent the materials used by the artists in creating their original works. Those materials include paper, nontoxic paint, air-drying clay, oil pastels, and other supplies. The kits also include teacher guides that assist and maximize the educational benefits of the collection.

Mister ArtSee was founded in 2009 sculptor Elliott Arkin and a group of art professionals to promote art education in public schools, where it often suffers from the lack of material and curricular support. “Art education is an area that has to fight for every penny,” Arkin said in a phone conversation with Hyperallergic.

With scarce budgets for art education in public schools, teachers are left with no option but to carry the expenses for art supplies themselves. A 2018 survey released by the federal Department of Education showed that 94% of public school teachers in the United States reported paying for supplies without reimbursement during the 2014-2015 school year. The teachers in the survey reported spending an average of $479, while 7% of them reported spending more than $1,000.

Mister ArtSee has teamed up with the New York City Department of Education’s Office for Community Schools to distribute the books and kits to a list of schools throughout NYC’s five boroughs. So far, 75,000 kits have been distributed to 78 public schools throughout NYC’s five boroughs.

“There’s always room for some budgeting in schools but it’s very limited,” Anthony Heinz May, an art teacher for 1st-5th grades at P.S. 20 in Clinton Hill, told Hyperallergic in a phone interview. Although his school receives “Title I” supplemental funds for having a high number of children from low-income families, May had to look for external donors for art supplies for his class. Last year, he was able to personally persuade the NYC art supplies store Blick to donate large volume of art supplies to his school.

“Art education is sidelined in the national curriculum,” May said, adding that resources are directed towards programming and computer studies. “They [schools] don’t see practicality in art education.”

“Art is important for practicing one’s own individual self-freedom, creativity and expression. That’s why we should have, and that’s why we’re not having it, why it’s being lost,” May continued..

Mister ArtSee has also launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the distribution of kits to schools and to revamp its “Mister ArtSee vehicle,” an ice-cream truck turned into an artistically designed art supplies van.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...