CATALYST: Connecting Art and Social Justice

Prior to new COVID-19 guidelines, seven New York City Department of Education students and artists visited CATALYST: Art and Social Justice at Gracie Mansion. Hear these young creatives discuss the installation with New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals, and the power of art to spark change.



Student Artwork

These students were encouraged to submit artwork in which they addressed social issues through their perspectives. See their work below.


The Gift of Nyx


Artist: Liz Almonte | High School of Art and Design
Title: The Gift of Nyx
Height: 20”
Width: 16”
Medium: Oil on Canvas

Description/Inspiration: The Gift of Nyx is inspired by from Greek mythology, Nyx, who is considered the personification of the night. While being enveloped in darkness, the subject towers over the landscape holding the moon. Darkness is typically associated with the unknown and the moon is the only light source present. The general idea is to create a sense of security for the viewer and feel serenity towards the scene before them.


Crying & Demanding


Artist: Alari Biling | High School of Art and Design
Title: Crying & Demanding
Height: 19.75”
Width: 18” for center piece, & 9” for the side pieces.
Material: Charcoal and Acrylic on Paper

Description/Inspiration: From the Black Lives Matter movement (a friend), to school shootings (myself), and immigration laws (my great grandmother) I wanted to showcase people I knew who were impacted physically and emotionally by the American government’s refusal to ensure safety and justice for all.


“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”


Artist: Janelle Smith | Fordham High School for the Arts
Title: “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Height: 900 pixels
Width: 900 pixels
Medium: Digital art( In Autodesk Sketchbook )

Description/Inspiration: I had an inspiration for this project because during the time in school we were learning about Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 Asynchronous Activity which there was a play and did an Arts Integration. During the Twilight LA. There were riots as there were outrage of the treatment of black people due to Rodney King getting beat by the police. In my art I used his quote when he spoke out to everyone to show that we are still not getting along to this day.




Artist: Evan Hernandez | High School of Fashion Industries
Title: Unseen
Height: 12”
Width: 9”
Medium: oil paint

Description/Inspiration: “This piece represents the social injustice against people with mental health. They are not seen or taken seriously by the public. This problem could escalate into bigger problems, unseen or unacknowledged mental health issues are the biggest cause for teen suicide. In this painting, the small person represents those with mental health issues, the eyes represent how society judges them and casts them aside while the larger creature is mental health itself. Society has labels and stereotypes that haunt those with mental illness. I hope that one day, we can finally bring to light these issues and effectively take action to combat the rising numbers of suicide in teenagers with mental health issues.”




Artist: Mckayla Faye | High School of Fashion Industries
Title: Untitled
Height: 8.5”
Width: 11”
Medium: Film Photography & Scanned Digital work

Description/Inspiration: I took this photo to show the oblivion of the people around this homeless man. Homelessness is a common issue in our city, and many people don’t like to face the reality as to why people are homeless and the ways that they can help. The injustices that surround the homeless community, reflect those in our society. For people who are viewed as “less than” they are not given the same love and respect as others. This photo was taken pre-COVID, and homelessness has only gotten worse around us. These people need our help and should be given the opportunity live a fulfilled life.




“Rising Again”


Artist: Kenny Heredia | Brooklyn High School of the Arts
Title: Series Your Earth
Height: 16”
Width: 12”
Medium: Acrylic on canvas

Description/Inspiration: In this series, “Your Earth”, I aimed to explore the story of humanity and a possible outcome of the actions which have been detrimental to our planet’s health. In the first piece titled “Protector(s)”, the subject represents the part of humanity that is hopeful and still willing to fight for the chance at a better future. Being that this task often seems futile and all too overwhelming, the subject is portrayed with supernatural abilities, announcing the group as self-proclaimed heroes fighting what seems to be an inevitable outcome. Earth is seen in the distance, illuminated but dull, slowly being enveloped by a serpentine figure representing both humanity’s greed and the possibility of being able to heal. As the series progresses, we can see which influence ultimately prevails in this hypothetical timeline. The second piece titled “Fading” is based more around current events as we deal with the repercussions of capitalism, the pain brought on by systems based on racism, and the results of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which shine light upon the barbaric acts that America was founded on and continues to thrive because of. The painting is mainly orange, emulating the feel of the sun setting on an old era, which in this case signifies the era of humanity coming to an end. The subject is surrounded by fungi, organisms which thrive on decay and are known to survive in the most bleak environments, representing the idiom: “Nature always finds a way”. She is holding a weak flame (humanity’s damage against nature) as she fades into the air, an effect meant to portray humanity’s last breath as we face our destiny. The third and final piece titled “Rising Again”, embodies the idea of nature prevailing after the downfall of human civilization. It is set in a town that has been completely engulfed by the sea as water levels have risen due to global warming. This change allows life to prosper past the age of humans, as the sun shines on a relic of the era (the house) as it is overcome by nature.


The Injustice of Our Hard Work


Artist: Morvens Regis | Brooklyn High School of the Arts
Title: The Injustice of Our Hard Work
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas

Description/Inspiration: In my painting, The Injustice of Our Hard Work, I wanted to show the positive impact of black people in the United States. I was particularly inspired by the 1619 Project which reexamines the history of African Americans. It taught me the importance of black people to this country’s history and the success they have helped this country achieve. With the recent killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, I wanted to show the injustice that continues to be inflicted on black people in this country.  My painting is a reminder that black people should be treated equally and the injustices against our communities and killings of our people must stop.

Hear more from these creative artists by clicking on the videos below.

Discussing Lucia Hierro’s “Breakfast Still-Life with Greca"

Will CATALYST change your art?”

Discussing Lorraine O’Grady’s “Art Is… (Troupe Front)”

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