Artists Space

Listening to the LES

Listening to the LES is a new media art project at P.S. 140 with special education students in Grades 5 and 6. It is lead by Robert Sember, member of sound art collective Ultra-Red. The project introduces students to inquiry-based art practices, and builds a shared historical awareness of the fabric of the city and the lives of those who live here. Students use oral history, site recording, and archival materials to explore their Lower East Side neighborhood. Students conduct interviews, make and edit audio recordings, and plan and facilitate listening sessions and contribute their compositions to the annual Young Artists Perform (YAP) presentation.

At the heart of the Listening to the LES project are our shared connections to place and community. The quarantine affected both relationships: we could not meet and walk the streets of the Lower East Side together. Some of us described feeing part of something bigger as we listened in the early months of the pandemic to the hollering and banging of pots and pans at 7pm every night to thank our family members and neighbors who were keeping the city going.

We realized that while we might not be able to move freely, sounds can and do move freely.

– Robert Semper, Teaching Artist

Photograph of a pink and yellow abstract collage with drawings in black ink and pecil. The words "love," "tree," and "oak," are written in pencil in the top right corner.
Tree/plant, watercolor, marker and collage, 7th grade student at P.S. 140, 2021 [Photograph of a pink and yellow abstract collage with drawings in black ink and pecil. The words "love," "tree," and "oak," are written in pencil in the top right corner.]
Photograph of students and a teacher in a grey sweater stand in a classroom. They are smiling and holding the ends of white strips of paper which are woven into a tight knot in the center.
7th and 8th grade students and staff at P.S. 140 participate in My Story, Our Story, 2020 [Photograph of students and a teacher in a grey sweater stand in a classroom. They are smiling and holding the ends of white strips of paper which are woven into a tight knot in the center.]
Two poems. On the left, by Quentin: "I am from a computer and websites and games. / I am from a fun house and a loud house. / I am from an acacia tree and a bush whose stems I remember as if they were my own. / I am from Fourth of July and birthdays and from being sick toether and my sister Sivanda. / I am from my niece and being observant and independent. / I am from "stay out of the trouble" and "wait until you
P.S. 140 student poems from “I am” project, 2018 [Two poems. On the left, by Quentin: "I am from a computer and websites and games. / I am from a fun house and a loud house. / I am from an acacia tree and a bush whose stems I remember as if they were my own. / I am from Fourth of July and birthdays and from being sick toether and my sister Sivanda. / I am from my niece and being observant and independent. / I am from "stay out of the trouble" and "wait until you're older" and *Wheels on the Bus.* / I am from always eating at 7 o'clock. / I am from Manhattan and Puerto Rico and Africa and chicken and rice and seafood. / I am from fighting all the time and shiny and precious jewlery." The second poem, by Gabby, reads: "I am from Hip Hop music and cocoa butter and sprite. / I am from Joy and love. / I am from a cherry tree and daisies whose stems I remember as if they were my own. / I am from church and birthday parties and from bravery and confidence. / I am from Sabrina and cleaning the house and from family that is protective of me. / I am from 'mind your business' and 'I don't have friends, I have associates' and 'stay alive longer!' and the song *Body Party* by Ciara. / I am from visiting with family in Pennsylvania. / I am from East Harlem and West Indians and fried chicken and mac 'n cheese. / I am from Shakina who passed and I am named after her and a beautiful Egyptian statue"]
A cropped image of a group of students smiling for the camera in Tompkins Square Park. One holds a recording device, which has been overlaid with an opaque orange image of a lampshade. Green digital circles emanate out from it, as if to simulate a doppler-effected sound
P.S. 140 students recording sounds at Tompkins Square Park, 2019 [A cropped image of a group of students smiling for the camera in Tompkins Square Park. One holds a recording device, which has been overlaid with an opaque orange image of a lampshade. Green digital circles emanate out from it, as if to simulate a doppler-effected sound]
An image of several students paitning with watercolors, each on their own desk
P.S. 140 students painting sound, 2019 [An image of several students paitning with watercolors, each on their own desk]

P.S. 140 students participating in Listening to the LES, discussing the COVID pandemic in 2020.

Play Fears, Family and Friends recording


For African Burial Ground, P.S. 140 students participating in A Map of Echos speak and engage in sound restoration on-site, 2018.

Play African Burial Ground recording


Frankie, one of the P.S. 140 students participating in Listening to the LES, explains the difference between equality, equity, and liberation.

Play recording of Frankie on Equality, Equity, and Liberation

To listen to Frankie speak more about equity, visit this link:
Examining Equity with Robert Sember and Listening to the LES, Children’s Museum of the the Arts CIVICKIDS blog, 2018.