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LEAP Students Exhibit Art through New York Museum

LEAP student artists

Student artists from LEAP High School will display their paintings -- and their immigration stories -- in an exhibit at the SPPS Center for Equity and Culture. The opening event takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 22. In addition to the physical exhibition in Saint Paul, 26 of the students and their artworks are also represented in the online gallery of New York City’s Tenement Museum.

The art is accompanied by stories from the students. Salman, who came to the U.S. from Somalia six months ago, says of his painting:

When I got my visa to come to the United States I had only three days to get ready. In my mind I have brought with me the farm, the animals, the river and the mountains. It’s peaceful and quiet. I had a lot of friends there. I used to play soccer and do horse racing. This is the peaceful and relaxing scenery I drew in my picture.

LEAP High School serves some 250 students like Salman: newcomers to the United States who are learning English while earning a high school diploma. The students represented in the exhibition have arrived recently from countries in southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

LEAP made the connection with the Tenement Museum through two educators from Mia, also known as the Minneapolis Institute of Art: Sheila McGuire, Head of Student and Teacher Learning, and Amanda Lesnikowski, Student and Teacher Learning Coordinator. Both had worked with LEAP students and faculty before. “When the Tenement Museum reached out to Mia about the Your Story, Our Story project, we saw an immediate link with LEAP,” says McGuire.

Your Story, Our Story is an online digital storytelling exhibit accessible through the Tenement Museum website. The exhibit highlights immigration and migration stories of the past and the present. According to the Museum website, “Each story reveals one student's family experience. Collectively, the stories tell America's story and highlight the patterns that bind us together, no matter where we came from or how long we've been there.”

Your Story, Our Story usually focuses on the story of an object or “artifact” students brought with them to the U.S. LEAP art teacher Jill Michell says that wasn’t practical for her students.

“When they came here, a lot of our students had only their clothes and their memories of what they left,” says Michell, who teaches landscape painting every year. With encouragement from the people at Mia, this year she helped students create a painted landscape of their memories. “The landscape is the artifact.”

Michell’s colleague Anne Lowe, a veteran teacher of English language learners, worked with the students to help them describe their memories of objects, foods and traditions. Some students spoke in their first language and were assisted by interpreters. More student artwork and stories are online at Your Story, Our Story at the Tenement Museum website and also at

Mia’s Sheila McGuire says that of the several schools Mia has connected with the Tenement Museum, LEAP is the only one whose students have created their own art expressly for Your Story, Our Story.

Tuesday’s opening event at the Center for Equity and Culture will feature artist talks and dances by students from Congo and Malawi and a Karen group. The physical exhibit runs through June 8 at the Center for Equity and Culture. Contact the CEC at to schedule a viewing.

Link: Back to the LEAP High School Photo Gallery