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Masters of Art

Teenagers share thoughts on the artistic life with TC students and the singer's singer, Tony Bennett
Imagine being in high school, maybe your junior or senior year, and you and some of your classmates are asked to address a roomful of would-be teachers at an Ivy League school like, say, Teachers College. No pressure. Then it turns out that your school’s founder and living legend, singer Tony Bennett, will also be in attendance.
No way? Julie Lien, Jill Cohen, Shah Amed, Jessy Deolall, Magda Makarewicz and Anthony Picarelli, all students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, would beg to differ.
All six students and their art teacher, Jane Kahn, a doctoral candidate in TC’s Art and Art Education Program, spent more than an hour in Professor Judith Burton’s course on the artistic development of adolescents on February 16 discussing art and the role it can play in the lives of teenagers. Sitting quietly in the back, sketch pad in hand, were Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto.
“To have someone like Tony Bennett support a school, especially one dedicated to the arts, is unbelievably important because of the weight of his fame,” said Burton, who herself established a public school in New York City. “It’s really very important. You can see it this evening, just by the fact that he is here. That somebody as important and as busy as Tony Bennett would come on a Monday evening to a class at Teachers College to listen to high school kids talk is mind blowing.”
Bennett’s involvement in charitable causes is legendary, and a particular focus for him in recent years has been arts education. In 1999, he and Benedetto, a TC alumna and former public school teacher, founded Exploring the Arts, a charitable organization dedicated to promoting and supporting arts education. Through Exploring the Arts, the couple founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA), where potential students must audition to gain admission and then maintain a schedule that includes six academic classes and three in their various studios.
“The students were great,” said Bennett, an accomplished painter who has exhibited in galleries around the world. “What I really love about the kids from the Frank Sinatra school is how much they know. Once I took them to the Guggenheim Museum and the show was called ‘From Goya to Picasso,’ and I thought it might be tough to teach them about these artists. Well, they knew more than the people at the museum. It was amazing.
“The school is very important to me. It is doing fantastic. They’re all good students. They love being there, and they’re all good to one another.”
It was, in fact, a return appearance for the six students. Every year, Burton invites high school students to her class to give her TC charges a grounding in the realities of teaching art to young people. All the FSSA students made the trip to TC last year, also.
The students first discussed their artwork, on view February 16–27 in TC’s Macy Gallery as part of the exhibition “Adolescent Voices: The Works of Students from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.” They then took questions from the TC students on topics ranging from how they felt about exhibiting their work (all of them loved it) to what characteristics make for a good art teacher.
“A sense of humor,” answered FSSA student Julie Lien to the latter query. “If your teacher has a sense of humor, it really does break the ice with the students. I think it makes you more open to sharing your ideas without censoring yourself—without being afraid that your ideas are bad.”
“For me, it’s confidence, because it’s hard to pass it on if you don’t have it,” said FSSA student Jessy Deolall, who plans to pursue art as a career. “Like with Mrs. Kahn, she tells us she is always right—about a lesson. It’s important to have that confidence. It’s a good thing.”
After the high school students left, Tony Bennett stayed and listened as some of the TC students shared their impressions with Burton. It was, for him, a unique and memorable experience.
“What I am so very impressed with are the students in the class who want to become teachers,” Bennett said. “What a wonderful group of people. They know their salaries are going to be a little inadequate, yet they are such great human beings that they want to teach other people. That was a very warm experience for me.”

Published Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2009