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Artists, futurists amass ed-reform exhibit in NY

Microsoft's Bing leads the charge in putting together a one-weekend-only gallery in New York with over 150 artists' reform-motivated work.

Michael Murphy, an assistant professor of art and technology at Georgia College, inserts individual pencils into a map of the U.S.--6,000 of them, representing the number of students who drop out of school each year--at the RE:FORM School exhibit. Caroline McCarthy/CNET

NEW YORK--"Over here, that's a clam learning how to use the Internet," Yosi Sergant, the publicist best known for promoting Shepard Fairey's now-iconic "HOPE" poster during Barack Obama's presidential campaign, said as he led a tour of RE:FORM School.

RE:FORM School is weekend-long exhibit in Manhattan designed to raise awareness and funds regarding the need to reform American education.

On the wall of a corridor in a downtown building that for decades housed the oldest Catholic school in the city--it was closed last year due to underenrollment--sure enough, there was a painting of what was very clearly a mollusk sitting in front of a keyboard and monitor.

Painted by artist Michael Williams, it's one of the scores of creative works populating the school's four floors, from photography to painting to sculpture to an installation in which the sound waves generated by a cellist's music are used to make patterns in shallow pools of water. Peeking out the window, a visitor catches a glimpse of the bold, black-and-white art plastering the walls of the entire school courtyard, a massive paper mural created by street-art mainstays Wooster Collective in collaboration with students at the Harlem Success Academy.

At the root of this "pop-up" gallery of over 150 artists, which is open to the public Saturday through Monday, is a name that isn't typically associated with graffiti or technophilic bivalves: Microsoft, or more specifically, its Bing search engine.

Last month, Bing launched an education-reform initiative called ReDu in partnership with the likes of the Creative Arts Agency and social-change-focused media company Good. This year, with education reform a prominent issue thanks in part to vocal philanthropic efforts on behalf of tech industry leaders like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who recently donated $100 million to the public school system in Newark, N.J., and the acclaimed new documentary "Waiting for Superman," Bing approached Sergant to see about a physical exhibit.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has made education reform a key focus of his charitable initiatives, but Bing Director Stefan Weitz explained that Bing's ReDu is not connected to Gates' philanthropic foundation--it's the search engine's own project.

"(We wanted to) raise awareness of the challenges we have in education and really take action," Bing director Weitz said Thursday during the tour of the exhibit. "It's an incredible conundrum, and people aren't really feeling the need to do something about it."