In the mid-1970s, New York City was in the midst of a fiscal crisis. Among the budget cuts: public school arts education.

After reading news of the cuts, prominent New York philanthropist Agnes Gund was prompted to found Studio in a School in 1977. Today, the organization still brings artists into NYC classrooms to teach students visual arts.

“It’s a language, everyone can speak it,” Gund said. “It doesn’t discriminate, it’s really for everybody.”

Over the course of 40 years, Studio in a School has reached nearly 1 million students and more than 800 schools, most of which serve Title I-eligible students, and brought such high-profile artists as Jeff Koons and Fred Wilson into classrooms.

In honor of the organization’s anniversary, a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York pulls pieces from Studio in a School’s archives. “The City and the Young Imagination” features more than 30 drawings, collages and sculptures by students of all ages from all five boroughs that show representations of the city, from bridges to skyscrapers.

This isn’t the first time Studio in a School has exhibited student work; it’s regularly held shows at Christie’s and the Asia Society. For its 40th anniversary, the organization thought the timing was right for a retrospective of sorts and approached the museum.

“One of the themes of the Museum of the City of New York is creativity in the city,” curator Donald Albrecht said. “[The Studio in a School’s] being founded in a particular moment in the city’s history, during the financial crisis, was particularly interesting, too.”

Since its founding, when it served three schools, Studio in a School has grown to reach 30,000 students a year at 175 educational sites across the city.

“We’ve really hoped to keep doing it, until every school in the city has arts,” Gund said. “We need to let children run away with their imaginations.”