Armed with paintbrushes, cans of paint, and a whole lot of enthusiasm, work kicked off in earnest on another new Groundswell mural, this one going up on one of the walls of John Ericsson Middle School 126 on Leonard Street.
This time around, a group of 20-odd students and a duo of artists, which makes up the non-profit mural making group’s youth program teams, are working on a mural to raise awareness about environmentalism in the neighborhood.
On a recent afternoon, students gathered along the pavement in front of the school for “community painting day” – a practice Groundswell undertakes at all of its project sites, during which it invites community members to help paint the artwork.
The mural design was the result of several weeks spent by the teens and artists researching Greenpoint’s environmental history by touring the community and meeting with members of the Greenpoint Chamber, the Department of Environmental Protection and local electeds.
The use of water, the Newtown Creek oil spill, and subsequent health problems that affected residents were some of the themes that came to the forefront in the group’s discussion about the project.
“They’ve become leaders in their own right through this program,” said Yana Dimitrova, the lead artist working with the students on the mural being installed at M.S. 126. “They found their voice through the creative process. This isn’t just some summer job, sometimes students develop interest for the work even after the project is over, some take on the path of art, and others find more safe spaces in their communities and find ways to articulate their feelings.”
Once the mural goes up, some of the elements visible in the work will include environmental activists holding protest signs, a film strip on which each cell represents the industrial history of the neighborhood, the wastewater treatment plant, rooftop gardens, waterfront parks, electric cars and a student rowing a canoe – with the New York City skyline in the backdrop – reflecting the project’s central purpose – a neighborhood whose history of environmental activism will hopefully lead to a cleaner environment.
“Work like this feels like we somehow helped better the community,” said Matthew Sotomayer, 17, a student at the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, who in addition to the M.S. 126 mural, also participated in creating a mural on Greenpoint Avenue. “I feel like we created a positive setting for where community members can talk about the change in the neighborhood.”
The project was sponsored by the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce and was funded by a Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) Grant.
“The problem of graffiti in the neighborhood is one thing the Chamber of Commerce wants to tackle,” said Elaine Brodsky, a board member on the Chamber. “This is one way to change and beautify the neighborhood at the same time. To see the students so enthusiastic and excited about the project is the best part about it.”