Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Artist in Society

                                                                                                                      November 28, 2016

Dear LoMA Family,

            Two weeks ago, I went to a symposium at the Onassis Center wherein five artists and writers spoke on the role of the artist in society. Any answer to the question of “what is art” is impossible, yet a discussion on the topic is enriching and interesting.  Here are some of the more stimulating ideas I heard that night.
            The most common and traditional perception is that art should reflect what is beautiful in the world: a formal ballet, a tranquil landscape painting or a melodious symphony. In this sense, art creates an ideal that we can aspire to and that may offer solace in a difficult world. When I look at a Monet painting or listen to Mozart during the school day it calms me down and sets me right. One speaker described beauty in art as a “sanctuary.”
Awar Nafasi, a teacher and author from Iran, said art can do more than this when it “allows one to transcend one’s own reality.” Nafasi used to teach English literature in Tehran during the dictatorship. When these students would secretly and illegally read about 18th Century New Yorkers in Henry James novels or about Huck helping Tom escape slavery in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, they would escape their boundaries of oppression as they imagined living lives far different from their own. Whenever you are reading Shakespeare or Junot Diaz or studying art from another culture, you have the opportunity to discover new worlds for yourself.
Several speakers discussed James Baldwin’s command that artists “disturb the world.” For some, this may be political as so much great art is a moving response to oppression and violence.  Alvin Ailey did this powerfully with his choreography for “Revelations” and Picasso changed the very meaning of art with his painting “Guernica” Today, hip-hop has expanded on this tradition through the rhymes of Kendrick Lamar or Taylor the Creator and the videos of BeyoncĂ©. As the photojournalist Eli Reed said that night, for artists such as these, “Resistance in art is not political; it is existential.” I don’t know if he meant to be ironic when he later said “I’ll bet a lot of great art will come out of the Trump presidency.”
There are, however, less political ways to “disturb the world.” Nafasi spoke of her desire to “challenge the atrophy of feelings” in order to “awaken the consciousness.” Art should have a visceral power; it should make us feel more strongly, love more deeply, and care more profoundly. The same movie can make us laugh and cry, a dance can inspire us and a song can evoke overwhelming memories. Done well, art “makes the ordinary less ordinary” and our world more magical.
With very little artistic talent of my own, I have helped to create two arts schools. I think it is because I feel so inspired and moved to be around such creative students and teachers. Their energy, creativity and resourcefulness inspires and energizes me. We all need the arts to make ourselves more caring, thoughtful, and stimulating, and to create a world that is more connected, just and innovative.

Work Hard,

John Wenk

November 29              10:30               Sophomore Trip to City College to hear St. Luke’s Orchestra
December 2                                        End of Second Marking Period
December 8                5:45-8:00        Parent Teacher Conferences

Dear LoMA Family,

The following is my manifesto for my 12th grade art project. It’s a year-long project. I've decided to create self-portraits, which allows me to see myself in different ways. I was uncomfortable with them before because really, who likes to stare at themselves and all of the things they do not like? However, as time passed I've accepted myself and see how important self-portraits are.

Recently, I came across this quote, "Art is a lie that helps us see the truth about ourselves". As soon as I read that quote I thought, oh sh*t that’s perfect for my manifesto. A lot of messages have been smacking me in the face lately, it feels crazy like the universe is talking to me. I'm so happy this is all happening, "Universe it’s me, I'm here, I see that you've decided to get back to me".

So like I said before, when I read that quote I almost sh*tted on myself. I used the word sh*t because I can (Don't go around using sh*t all willy-nilly kiddos. It's for the effectiveness of my manifesto).

This is my manifesto and I can.

That's the thing that makes art so absolutely positively perfect; I can do what I want, how I want, with materials I want, using the ideas I want, asking the questions I have, being daring when I can't otherwise, and just having fun.

The other perfect thing about art is exactly what the man said (“the man” being P-fizzle, P-fizzle being Pablo Picasso, duh). My work allows me to see who I am and how I really feel about myself, but I never realized that it's seeped through until afterwards.

I want to keep writing about what I learn, my perspective and all the new things I encounter, but it’s still all in process. Don't worry, I will keep you updated.

Gosh, I hope I don't suddenly think of what else I could have written while I’m croaking on my deathbed 231662726527892 years from now.



Death by art would be a lovely way to go out.

I wouldn't mind it.

I really don't want to die mid-sentence, though.

How did this become a conversation about dying?

Hmm, another beautiful thing about art.



Don’t push too hard. You might get hemorrhoids and die.



Friday, November 18, 2016


                                                                                                                                November 21, 2016
Dear LoMA Family,

Aside from the overeating, I think Thanksgiving is one of our healthiest holidays. It provides us a time and place to reflect on what we are thankful for, and here at LoMA there is so much that I am grateful for.
            LoMA’s students are showing their success in so many ways this year:
·       In every class I visit, I am proud to see nearly every student hard at work.
·       This engagement continues well after the regular school day ends. Tutoring sessions are packed with diligent, committed students, and our after school clubs seem very popular and productive.
·       Student attendance is at 90% and timeliness has been getting better every year, demonstrating our students’ sense of responsibility.
These good efforts of our students is shown in the longest honor roll I can remember for the last marking period. As a school, our latest School Quality Guide made manifest the efforts of our family. Last year’s freshmen and sophomores got the highest scores in credit accumulation for passing all of their classes. Even better was that nearly all of our Regents scores exceeded the standards the city set for us. Best of all, however, is that once again, nearly all of our graduates are still in college after 18 months. I am so thankful that not only do our graduates go to college, they have learned the skills and behavior that will make them successful when they get there.
            One big reason for our students’ success is the work that LoMA’s teachers put into their creative lesson planning, professional lesson execution and dedicated tutoring sessions. I don’t think that students realize how much work it takes for teachers to plan interesting lessons. LoMA’s teachers don’t just repeat the same lessons year after year; they plan to together constantly to renew and refresh what and how they teach.
            That same caring is reflected in the work of all of LoMA’s support staff. For such a small school, we have a lot of counselors, paras, office staff, and school safety agents. All of these people are focused on ensuring that students can be successful in their academics. Beyond our school’s staff, I am thankful for all of the outside organizations who support our students. Edgies, Step Up, NYTW, NYU, SriptEd, and The Door all provide dedicated staff that provide fun, interesting programming that helps our students become more responsible, committed, and caring.
            We have so many wonderful events at LoMA. Last week’s Open House was a hit with our dancers and singers showing off how talented LoMA students are and our guides were friendly and enthusiastic. This spring, we will have our biggest visual arts event ever. LoMA has been selected to exhibit with the artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo at this year’s Whitney Biannual! The Biannual is like the Oscars for visual arts as it exhibits all of the greatest American artists working in the last two years. Our students will create art in a specially made studio gallery in the museum, and on weekends LoMA will become an exhibition space for the Biannual.
            One of our biggest annual events is our Thanksgiving Feast which will take place on Tuesday at 4:00 pm. I’ll be making eleven turkeys, four hams, and dozens of side dishes and desserts. LoMA Cares and Student Council will be serving the food and cleaning up, with the help of many staff. Please bring your families and join with us in thanksgiving.
            As you may have noticed last week, I’m not the only one writing the newsletter now. Mr. Ravdin and Ms. L. are now soliciting student response to the topics I write about so that we can have more of a student voice in what we think about. I want to thank both of them for organizing this. On the back of today’s letter, one of our anonymous students writes of what he is thankful for.

Work Hard,

John Wenk
November 22                                       Junior trip to NYTW
November 22               4:00                 LoMA’s Annual Thanksgiving Feast
November 24 and 25                           Thanksgiving Break
November 29               10:30               Sophomore Trip to City College to hear St. Luke’s Orchestra

Dear LoMA Family,

     Who are we without a tinge of altruism? Even though we aren't pure, there is faint presence of this rare quality in our very beings. The Lower Manhattan Arts Academy. Lower Manhattan’s fairest meadow. This humble academic institution has staff and programs that overflow with this sparse principle of selflessness.
     As an immigrant to this country, I was once lost on the road of life. I even lost my confidence, so how could I possibly win? But within the short time at this institution, I am found. My life can surely begin. When I first migrated, my transcript was in tatters (metaphorically). I truly hated math, and I only worked to pass a class. But after talking to, Ms. Cordero, I was provided with extra classes and programs to suit my need. Whether it be Milly, the lady with a thousand jobs, diligently waiting to distribute breakfast in the morning or tutoring after school, these staff give their all to make sure you're comfortable and on track.
    Whenever I hit a fork in the road, or I'm uncomfortable with whatever is happening in my life, I can approach anyone freely, with no inhibition or fear. Everyone is open. Everyone is here. Ms. Louisdhon, an eleventh grade humanities teacher, is sweet, caring, brutally honest, and is practically everyone's second mother. Through her outlook on life and strict review of my unfavorable ways, I am a better student. No matter what time it is, teachers always give you the time of day to review your work or to transform into your personal counselor, guiding those who sought them.
     As a student in a minority group, I am always uplifted by the students around me. Aside from the multitude of diverse faces and personalities, there is a cornucopia of clubs and societies readily accepting members at a moment’s notice. The school’s pride in the air is so thick that it can be cut with a knife.
     This school is where I find refuge. It's where I found friendship. It is a community that builds relationships and helps you adjust into adulthood. It has made me into the man I am today. I will be proud and thankful to call the Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, my Alma Mater.
Yours sincerely,


Thursday, November 10, 2016


November 14, 2016                                                                     

Dear LoMA Family,
            I know that many students and staff are feeling a bit traumatized by the election results last week. The campaign took on a tone that became misogynist, racist and xenophobic, and touched a lot of nerves. Whether you were happy with the results or not, we must all recognize what President Obama said last Wednesday:  “We are all on the same team.”  Trump, himself, recognized this in his victory speech when he said, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division…It is time for us to come together as one united people.” Furthermore, he asked the people who did not vote for him “for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
            Given the rancor of the campaign, I can understand that many people may be hesitant to believe him. His statements about women were especially disturbing. As he repeatedly objectified, degraded and threatened women, it is understandable that many would feel devalued and disgusted by his rise to such a powerful position. I also understand that many people are disappointed that we came so close to electing such a highly qualified female candidate. As Secretary Clinton has said, we failed to break this glass ceiling now, and sooner than it feels now.
Also disturbing was his rhetoric about immigrants. Too many Americans seek to demonize immigrants, and anyone who look different from them.  They have a sense of America as a zero sum game where for one group to gain, another group has to lose. These people believe that if immigrants or minorities are successful, it will push them out. That’s not how it works, though. When any one group in America is successful, we all gain. For instance, 40% of the 500 biggest companies in America were founded by immigrants. In the same way, racial and sexual diversity has helped companies and organizations to be more successful for their customers and clients. Companies with women in powerful positions are becoming more common, but are still the exception. This will change as new research indicates that sexually diverse companies tend to be more profitable than ones run by only men. Listening to the seniors last week, I was so proud to hear how much they value the diversity that makes New York the greatest city in the world. No one can ever take those values away from us.
            To a large degree no one can. America is never about one person or party. Its foundation is in the Constitution that enshrines “equal protection under the law.” No one person or party can change the definition of citizenship. We have a long judicial case history and strong laws that support equal rights. Furthermore, our republic is supported by the three levels of government: federal, state and city. Most of the aspects of government that affect us most directly – school, NYPD, help for the poor - are in the hands of our mayor and governor. For all the attention around the president, our system of check and balances assures that he is just one part of a much larger system.
            President Obama also had this to say about the election: “Sometimes you lose an argument, sometimes you lose an election, but the path this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag.” This has been the 14th presidential election of my life. About a half of them have turned out as I would have wished, and after the others, I thought the country had made a huge mistake.  Historians have noted that we seem to shift control of the government about every eight years. Whatever it is, President Obama is right. Progress, whether in people or a nation is never a straight line; it moves in zigs and zags. But, as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.” Sometimes, we need to have patience and forbearance to see the arc bend.

Work Hard,

November 14                                                  Second Freshmen Arts Rotation begins
November 17                         6:00                 Parents’ Association
November 22                                                  Juniors’ trip to NYTW
November 22                          4:30                 Thanksgiving Feast
John Wenk

Friday, November 4, 2016


November 7, 2016
Dear LoMA Family,

            There’s been a lot of research and talk about the importance of persistence, or as it is now more commonly considered grit. Grit is built of self-determination and gives us the resiliency to keep trying even when obstacles build up against us. I see and admire it in our students who have had to overcome personal tragedy, difficult family issues and challenging environments to be successful. In their bravery and perseverance, they follow the maxim of the philosopher Nietzsche: “What does not destroy you only makes you stronger.” Unfortunately, the more common trajectory is that the more troubles a person faces, the more difficult it is for them to persevere. Therefore, the question is, why some people have more grit than others?
            Most obviously, grit has to begin with hope. If a student has already failed math multiple times, it’s understandable that she may feel that it is impossible and nothing will work. That way of thinking will also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, if you believe that you can’t pass math, the best teacher will not be able to teach you even the simplest concept. Far more promising would be to believe that you need to try it a different way, attend tutoring more and/or go on-line to try to learn it differently. As long as there is hope there is possibility.
            Another aspect of grit is being aware and clear of exactly what you are after. Almost everyone wants to do well in school and go to a good college. Yet some believe that for this to happen, all they have to do is to pass their classes. This kind of magical thinking will never get them to their goal. They have to be focused on getting the 83 overall average, participating in extracurricular activities and taking college classes as a senior. In the same way, someone who wants to be a great dancer needs to work on their strength training, flexibility and knowledge of choreography. You have to know what you want, and how to get there.
            Perseverance is not universal to our nature. It is very likely that there are some areas where you show tremendous perseverance and others where you are too often a quitter. I have often seen students struggle valiantly through a difficult acting scene or song and then give up writing an essay or completing a lab. The difference comes down to what we care about. It is generally easier to care more about what we are good at or get positive feedback for. Unfortunately, our success is often measured by how we do on projects we don’t like to do. No one enjoys taking the SAT or Regents, but we have to care enough to persevere.
            Grit or perseverance is often connected to something called the frustration threshold. Low grit students often have a low threshold at which they give up trying. To help raise this threshold, our staff offers tutoring, encouragement and learning strategies in advisory. Ultimately, though, grit is up to the individual. No one can force you to care or carry on when the going gets tough. Your family, friends and teachers can help, but in the end, perseverance has to come from within.

Keep trying,

John Wenk

November 8                                                    Election Day-No Classes
November 10                                                  Senior Dinner at Benihana
November 11                                                  Veterans Day – no school
November 14                                                  Second Freshmen Arts Rotation begins