Pamela Mayers-Schoenberg’s photo exhibit, When Did it Stop Being Fun, is much more than an art show. It’s a personal statement from a mom on a mission. Mayers-Schoenberg, a Los Angeles-based photographer and mom of three kids ages 11-17, has witnessed firsthand the academic and extracurricular stress and anxiety that has become part of our children’s lives. Starting in elementary school, students now work to build a résumé that will help them stand out in a hypercompetitive environment and gain college acceptance.
Mayers-Schoenberg began her art career more than 20 years ago and has often used her work to document and examine issues in the community. Her latest show, opening at Santa Monica’s dnj Gallery April 16, is designed to spotlight the educational crisis that has created a generation of overworked, undernourished and sleep-deprived kids for parents, educators and policymakers.
Tell us about the motivation behind this exhibit.
This show is very personal for me. It has been very therapeutic to work on this project for the past year. I saw the stress that my own kids were under and I saw it in their friends and it made me sad for them and their childhoods. Our kids begin school in kindergarten with such excitement about their new friends, their new lunch box and backpack. And a few years later, their whole lives are about test scores and homework. It’s not fair.
How does this pressure affect family life?
Family time is completely sacrificed when you go from school to a series of activities, competitive sports, clubs and everything else our kids feel they need to do. My own daughter is often up until 1 a.m. doing homework. There is so much pressure on these kids that they often feel like they have to skip a family dinner or a cousin’s birthday to be able to finish everything. Even their extracurricular activities are so demanding that they are terrified of missing one practice. For us, family time is very important, so we try to have dinner together every night and we definitely come together every Friday night. But it’s not easy.
How is this exhibit organized?
There are five sections. It starts with original images taken by photographer Lewis Hine (1874-1940), to establish a historical background. His photos documented the life of children working in the early 1900s and helped bring change in the child labor laws. Next come drawings from kids in elementary school. I wanted to capture how they see school. Their drawings take us into their world of recess, play and new friends. Then I have a photo collage of “smiles and frowns” of middle and high school kids throughout Los Angeles, and some from schools in other states. We then move to a photo grid of high school students from six different schools taking a selfie right before going to bed. We will also have a documentary that my daughter is producing so we can hear directly from high school students, with in-the-moment/environmental photographs in the same room.
What would you like visitors to take away from the exhibit?
That this is a conversation we need to continue. There is a whole generation of kids who are stressed, anxious and unhappy. There is a lot of research recently on the importance of play. Kids should be kids. We need to let them just play and learn from doing.
When Did It Stop Being Fun? will continue through June 11 at dnj Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Sat. For more information, visit www.dnjgallery.net/upcoming.html.