Murals painted on the sides of buildings and other structures around New York City are vibrant and colorful reflections of this city’s creative culture. But as I learned on a bike ride hosted last Sunday by the not-for-profit organizations Groundswell and Transportation Alternatives, these large-scale works sometimes represent much more.
There’s power in the big pictures.
Founded in 1996, Groundswell joins artists, youth and community organizations to beautify neighborhoods, engage young people from low-income and working-class families in personal and societal transformation through art-making, and express ideas and perspectives that are underrepresented in public discourse. Themes range from anti-gun-violence to liveable streets to social justice.
The organization has created more than 450 murals in public spaces including the sides of buildings, community gardens and traffic underpasses, in 40 neighborhoods with the help of more than 90 artists and thousands of youths.
The ride kicked off with hot chocolate and pastries for cold-weather fortification.
Stepping off from City Bakery in the Flatiron District in frigid weather, our group of 18 explored the intersection of personal expression and community activism at multiple stops to view murals in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Learn how you can support Groundswell here.
Ride leader Ryan Nuckel of T.A. in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The mural Moving Along, 2013, in the Atlantic Avenue underpass in Downtown Brooklyn was a partnership with the New York City Department of Transportation and the Atlantic Avenue Bid. It promotes safe pedestrian movement between Atlantic Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Amy Sananman, Groundswell Founder and Executive Director, describes the organization’s process.
A Citi Bike docking station frames Justice Mandala, 2011, in Downtown Brooklyn. This alliance between Nu Hotel Brooklyn, the New York City Department of Corrections and Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn BID/Downtown Brooklyn Partnership explores the theme of restorative justice. Several of the young people who contributed were formerly incarcerated.
Steve Lyle (left) and T.A. Executive Director Paul Steely White
Each Groundswell mural, typically painted in acrylics, tells a story. The young artists work as a team, researching the topic, learning about the content, developing the message and learning about composition, symbolism, color and scale to evolve a shared vision. Among the most powerful and ultimately transformative works is Not One More Death (above).
Painted by students in Groundswell’s Summer Leadership Institute, and dedicated in 2007, Not One More Death memorializes three young children who were killed by cars and trucks in Downtown Brooklyn. It formed the high-profile core of a community campaign, led by Transportation Alternatives, to improve street safety. This collaborative effort led to traffic calming measures along 3rd Avenue.
Social activist Christopher Carinale, the lead artist on Not One More Death, shares his experience.
Our ride, much of it along the bike lanes that T.A. has been instrumental in winning, took us across the Manhattan Bridge, through Dumbo, Cobble Hill and Red Hook.
Mary Beth Kelly, a T.A. Board member who conceived the ride, leads circulation-boosting jumping jacks in Valentino Park.
Some Walls Are Invisible, 2010, in Red Hook was commissioned by Miles4Justice and the Red Hook Community Justice Center to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Dutch settlement in North America.
Along for the ride…
The final stops were at the edge of Gowanus and then Boerum Hill where the group warmed up over a late lunch at 112 Bond accompanied by mulled cider. Snowfall on the ride home over the Brooklyn Bridge at dusk was the coda to a day filled with visual grandeur.
Click here for additional photos from the ride.