Bronx Museum of the Arts
(click to enlarge)
Geodesic dome
Self portraits
Floor map of the Bronx
The Bronx Zoo, Botanical Garden and subway lines
Re-building the Bronx
Triborough Bridge under construction
Teacher and students laying down Manhattan on a classroom floor.
Depicting a neighborhood with found objects and ideas
Students painting the Hudson River in an alley outside of P.S. 84 in Mahhattan
Contact paper floor map of Lower Manhattan created by kids at Claremont Prep as a resource for learning about their neighborhood

In 1972, before the Bronx Museum moved into its new building, it occupied the the dark corners of the rotunda of the County Courthouse, and then, only on weekends. Phil had built a mirrored geodesic dome for an exhibit called "Reflect, Relate and Reveal" to reflect on how the community of the Bronx relates to its physical environment and what that might reveal. He gave out styrofoam wig heads and people returned them as self portraits which were hung from the dome.

The next step was to determine what these community residents would reflect upon from their lofty perches. When they looked down on the courtly marble tile floor what would they see? Obviously... they would see the Bronx! - a 35' by 35'map on which kids could place themselves in the context of their community by locating photos of their families on their neighborhoods and rebuilding it from the floor up.

But administrators of marble-floored museums get very pale when you mention painted maps so we had to find an alternative. It turned out to be a common household item - Con-tact paper - the sticky stuff with which our mothers covered kitchen shelves. With a few strategically placed "No Flamenco Dancing" signs, we thought it could hold up to the weekday traffic and be ready for urban renewal on the weekend. The pattern of the marble floor, with inlaid black diamond shapes at the corners, made perfect coordinates, except that until now, they weren't coordinating anything. We drew vertical (1,2,3) and horizontal (A,B,C) lines on a large map of the Bronx, placed black tape diamonds at the intersections and started to transfer the streets, subways, rivers and parks, point by point, to the floor.

'Somali', a leopard patterned Con-Tact, was laid down for the Bronx Zoo. 'Knotty Pine' represented Woodlawn Cemetery. Strips cut from black and white checkered table cloth became the elevated tracks lines that disappear in the South Bronx to become Manhattan's subways. Strips from the Yellow Pages phone book became commercial avenues while the residential streets were paved with the White Pages. You get the picture.

When this exercise is transferred to the classroom floor, its educational value becomes apparent. Even though kids now have sophisticated computer games like "Sim City" at their fingertips, there may still be some value to the more labor intensive process of building cities using the rest of their bodies and more of their own creativity.