Michelle Palatnik, a freshman studio art major in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, knew she wanted to become an artist from a very young age. A first generation American from an immigrant Russian family, Palatnik used drawing as a means of expressing her inner thoughts and grappling with the sometimes painful history of her parents’ native country.
Accepted to NYU last spring, Palatnik was encouraged by Linda Vega, undergraduate adviser in Steinhardt’s studio art program, to apply for a new art scholarship sponsored by the non-profit public art organization CITYarts and the artist Elizabeth Murray. Informed in May 2007 that she had won the Elizabeth Murray Scholarship, Palatnik says she was “overwhelmed” with emotion. “I was astounded by generosity and vision of beautiful people who made my passionate dream a reality. My endless and sincere thank you goes to CITYarts and Elizabeth Murray whose priceless memory I will cherish forever.”
The brainchild of Tsipi Ben-Haim, executive director of CITYarts, the scholarship was Ben-Haim’s way of honoring Murray for her lifelong contributions to the organization. The mission of CITYarts is to empower children and youth by bringing them together with working artists on public art projects. Since 1968, the organization has created more than 260 murals, mosaics, and sculpture across New York City.
Murray, an influential Modern artist whose colorful, abstract forms were exhibited in a blockbuster exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 2006, was a generous supporter of CITYarts, dispensing both artwork and advice over the years. She died of complications from lung cancer last August. “Elizabeth was the artist that artists loved to love,” says Ben-Haim. Supporting a young artist was very much in her nature.
When Vega learned about the scholarship opportunity, she knew that Palatnik would be a perfect candidate. “Her drawing skills were exceptional,” says Vega. “But beyond the skills, her desire to communicate strong ideas in her work, particularly about social justice, really matched up with the mission of CITYarts.”
As part of her scholarship which includes funding for four years of tuition at NYU, Palatnik was asked to take part in one of CITYarts’ public art projects. Last summer, she spent 6 weeks working with the artists Adam Peachy and James Evans and scores of local schoolchildren from Manhattan’s Lower East Side on a mural celebrating nature and raising awareness of global warming.
“The project was exactly right for me,” Palatnik says. “It was incredible to have people from the neighborhood cheer us on. A lot of the kids who were involved came from a local homeless shelter. I wish everyone at NYU could have the experience I did. There was nothing more gratifying than seeing the kids’ smiles at the end.”
For Ben-Haim, who earned her M.A. in comparative literature from NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, the scholarship has been an extension of CITYarts’ mission. “Youth have to be active participants in shaping their own future,” she says. “Kids must involve themselves in activities that are integral to keeping this world alive.”