Department of Cultural Affairs NYCulture City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs NYCulture City of New York

Percent for Art

   Ben Schonzeit

Common Ground, Paintings, 1996


Common Ground

Completion Date:



Oil on canvas


13'8" x 9'1"


P.S. 205


6701 20th Avenue at 67th Street, Brooklyn


Rice Partnership

Sponsor Agency:

Board of Education

Design Agency:

School Construction Authority

Ben Schonzeit's mural consists of two paintings that fit in panels on adjoining walls of a stairway to the second-floor lobby. These paintings fit in preexisting frames on the walls. The background is a loosely rendered topographical map of the world that blends into a map of the sky in the northern hemisphere. Over this are familiar images relating to the neighborhood, Brooklyn, and games, and activities. These images included the game Monopoly, a checker board game, dominoes, Chinese Checkers, and a soccer ball floating in front of the earth seen from space. There are two references to this particular neighborhood -- a "carreta" and a Sicilian marionette made by a famous puppeteer who lived and worked in this part of Brooklyn. Other images include a penguin from the aquarium at Coney Island, a tugboat, and a view of Brooklyn from Staten Island.

About the Artist...
Ben Schonzeit was born and raised in Brooklyn not far from P.S. 205, in a neighborhood that was very similar, though predominately Jewish. As a child, he painted murals across the windows of his public school, then murals in Midwood High School, as well as stage sets, and enormous decorations for dances and other school functions. His professional career began in 1969, exhibiting in New York and Europe as part of a group of artists called Photo-Realists. His work is included in museums throughout the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum among others.

Artist Quote...
I wanted to make a piece that was primarily aimed at the children who would see it every day. I felt that the images in this painting should relate both to play and the learning process. When I first came out to the school I was very impressed by the strong community and a wonderfully diverse population. To include references to the Italian-American history was important if I was to reflect the dominant ethnic group there and also to the increasingly international character of the neighborhood. My goal was to create a substantial work of art that would give the children direct and daily contact with art that was accessible to them both in style and content.

This project provides a unique opportunity for a dialogue between artists and the lives of the people in the community that might otherwise not occur. When serious artists do such work, I believe that it is like having a professional symphony orchestra playing for them everyday. This work is meant to open the minds of children to their own potential. Hopefully, there will also be community pride and identification with the work. -- Schonzeit, 1997