Teaching art to teens on the Esplanade


By Jane Van Ingen

Behind a handball court on the Battery Park City Esplanade, Miki Iwamura and Russell Crump are placing tubes of paint, rollers, construction paper, and X-Acto knives at two picnic tables. It is Tuesday afternoon at Rockefeller Park and amid all the picnic baskets and rollerbladers, they are getting ready for an art class for teenagers.

Iwamura teaches the class with Crump, a program leader at the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, every Monday and Tuesday afternoons at 4 p.m. She has been teaching the class ever since the Conservancy decided four years ago that there needed to be more art programs for young people. It started out as a workshop for students who were looking for a career in art, but now it’s expanded to include all teenagers.

Over the course of the summer, teens, age 12 and over have practiced drawing, painting, sculpting, photography and even T-shirt design. On this particular Tuesday, printmaking was the subject.

Adam, 13, made a design of several stars, a door and a Jewish star. Wayne, a 19-year-old studying graphic design made a series of leaves. Iwamura made a collage of different shapes.

“I like teaching people how to see and observe,” Iwamura said. “Everyone produces something that’s individual and sees things differently. It’s like a signature.”

To make a print, Iwamura slowly and meticulously cuts out a design. She then places it on posterboard and paints it, using the roller. She then turns over the design on construction paper, and taps the paper lightly to make sure the paint evens out on the page. Then she peels the construction paper away and views the print.

Meanwhile, Wayne applied a little bit of yellow and red paint on his leaves and the paint showed through lightly on the black construction paper.

During the school year, Iwamura teaches elementary school-age children and special education kids at public schools throughout the five boroughs through a program known as “Studio in a School.” She also works at the South Street Seaport Museum and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. She said she likes working with young people who already have or want to develop an interest in art.

“Classrooms settings are very structured,” Iwamura said. “Here, you can look around and observe, and get to know a person too.”

During the class, Iwamura instructed Adam to cut his lines a little thicker since his design was rather complex. She also chatted with Wayne about art classes he was taking and wanted to take.

Born in Japan, Iwamura moved often. Art became an outlet for her. She was exposed to it by her mother who was an artist. A sculptor, painter and photographer, her central theme has always been nature.

She also emphasizes emotion.

“I love something that comes from the heart rather than something that looks great,” she said.

From May to October, the Conservancy offers free events and activities for children and adults. On Wednesdays, professionals can use their lunch hour to learn how to draw nature in the gardens of Wagner Park or learn how to become sketch artists in the afternoon. Art and games for young children can be found at West Thames Park on Wednesday afternoons as well. Though it is on hiatus for the summer, adults can also take drawing lessons on Saturday mornings in South Cove.