Civic Participation in the Political Process is Alive and Well as New York City Students Succeed in Effort to Rename Artist’s Upper West Side Birthplace
Stockbridge, MA, February 22, 2016—Known for his idyllic scenes of rural America, artist Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was, in fact, born in New York City and lived his first two years in a brownstone at 206 West 103rd Street. More than 100 years later, a group of students from the city’s Upper West Side have found a way to pay tribute to the artist’s hometown roots, with help from the New York City Council and Norman Rockwell Museum.
Last week, New York’s City Council voted to officially rename the corner of West 103 Street and Amsterdam Avenue “Norman Rockwell Place.” A special signing ceremony will be held at New York’s City Hall on Thursday, February 25, starting at 11 a.m., officiated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and attended by New York high school students who campaigned for over a year to initiate the change. A street-renaming ceremony during which the new street sign will be affixed will take place on June 9.
The idea originated from a class project led by students from Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, an alternative school located around the corner from where Rockwell was born. After researching the life of the artist and visiting the Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the students began creating materials as part of a committee they formed to rename the corner. On Election Day, November 4, 2014, they canvassed voters at their school, a polling location, and picked up 300 signatures in support of the idea.
Last spring several of the students, led by teacher René Mills, returned to Stockbridge to learn more about the artist and his social justice works, and continue their collaboration with Norman Rockwell Museum. Tom Daly, the Museum’s Curator of Education, has been lending his support to the teens’ effort, which has become a useful lesson in civics, involving them directly in the political process.
“We are proud of the dedication and vision of the Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School students who worked diligently with our Museum to see Norman Rockwell recognized in his home town,” notes Norman Rockwell Museum Director/CEO, Laurie Norton Moffatt. “Rockwell hoped to inspire mutual respect and understanding through his pictures, and encourage change and community involvement. These students have demonstrated outstanding civic participation through their efforts, and we are so pleased to see Rockwell’s artistic legacy recognized on the street where he was born.”
“No doubt Rockwell’s experiences in the Upper West Side helped inspire him to produce powerful works depicting everything from the civil rights movement to FDR’s Four Freedoms,” adds New York City Council Member Mark Levine, who helped pass the street renaming bill. “I’m grateful to the students at West Side High School, their teacher, René Mills, and the support of the Norman Rockwell Museum for bringing Rockwell’s connection to this neighborhood to the attention of the world.”
In recognition of the students’ efforts, the Museum in partnership with edBridge Partners, an education consultancy, will be presenting each student with a family membership to Norman Rockwell Museum, which offers reciprocal privileges to more than 650 museums throughout North America.
Norman Rockwell Museum hopes to continue its partnership with the students, setting up a teen advisory group for a traveling exhibition on The Four Freedoms, planned to open in New York City in 2018, the 75th anniversary of Rockwell’s iconic paintings. Currently, students in New York’s Capital Region are readying works that reinterpret Rockwell’s Four Freedoms for an exhibition that will be on view at the Museum from March 9 through April 9, 2016.
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