In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists and Writers (AYAW)—a network of arts, education, and community leaders with the mission to encourage creative expression and artistic achievement in junior and senior high school students nationwide—noticed that many New York City young people were making art in response to the devastation. AYAW had arranged to have an exhibit of their Scholastic Art and Writing Awards winners to be on loan to a firm in the World Trade Center towers; all the artwork was lost in the attack. Seeing all this new work being created, AYAW put together a group exhibit of post-9/11 work by young artists as "an honest, moving, and beautiful memorial to the tragic events of September 11th."
AYAW received a chairman's extraordinary action grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the exhibition and its companion catalog. From 2,000 pieces of art and writing submitted by local schools, a panel of arts education experts and artists curated a 75-piece exhibition. ARTifacts: Kids Respond to a World in Crisis comprised a variety of artistic media, including photographs, paintings, drawings, sculpture, poems, essays, journalism, musical scores, and a play. The spectrum of artists included first-time artists as well as advanced students.
Some of the artwork was created by students displaced from school buildings because of their proximity to Ground Zero. At P.S. 234, an elementary school in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, students were moved to two schools before returning to their home space in February 2002. The students documented the journey in artwork and poems; one youngster wrote, "Move the windows!/Move the floors!/Bring them through the rooms/And out the doors!//We're going for another move/And that is that."
Selections from the exhibit were displayed at the 2002 National Association of Elementary School Principals National Conference in San Antonio, Texas; the Diane Von Furstenberg Studio Gallery and the Center for Arts Education Gallery in New York City, New York; and Washington DC's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (The entire exhibit was also available on Scholastic's website.) The New York Voice noted that, "the exhibited work demonstrates—in extraordinarily moving and often stunning terms—how tri-state children have coped with the tragedy and used creative expression to communicate their feelings and thoughts."