North Brooklyn youth are doing their part to ensure that Greenpoint’s environmental future is not quite bleak as its past, while honoring the community’s history of activism, or in this case, “art-ivism.”
On Tuesday, the efforts of students and artists working as part of Groundswell’s Summer Leadership Institute were unveiled at John Ericsson Middle School 126.
The mural – 30 feet by 60 feet in size, sits on one of the exterior walls of the Magnet School for Environmental Engineering and depicts the neighborhood’s rich history of environmental activism, drawing on familiar images and predicting a bright future.
Through a series of workshops, research, and trips around the neighborhood, the students and artists in the Groundswell program paid homage to the activism of the past depicting of what a future, environmentally conscious Greenpoint might look like.
“Our Journey to Clean Water,” depicts a woman pouring a cup of water from a tap, tracing its origin directly to the Catskills watershed from which it originated. Teenagers are shown holding up signs that read, “Stop dumping on our community,” and “Environmental Justice.” The right side of mural is highlighted by a kayaker paddling along Newtown Creek. And on its left, people are seen shopping at an organic market, where vegetables are grown on the roof, and an adjacent building harnesses solar energy for power. A film reel and a young group of filmmakers highlight the increasing presence of the film industry in the neighborhood.
“A lot of sweat and hard work went into creating this but it was because of the inspiring ideas of the youth that we were able to create it and we are so excited to see this come to life,” said Yana Dimitrova, the lead artist on the project. “I can’t think of a better theme than environmental justice while thinking about the needs of this neighborhood.”
Twenty-four students, along with Dimitrova, and assistant artist, Ruth Hofheimer, worked for several months to create the project. The group took educational field trips of the neighborhood, walking tours focused on environmental justice, a canoe trip on Newtown Creek, and a visit to the East of Hudson Watershed and the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park to better understand the watershed system.
“The trips were eye-opening,” said Leslie Valette, a youth participant in the program. “The experience and knowledge gained through the trips were very helpful in developing a full picture of how our activities in general affect the cleanliness of our water.”
The project was a partnership between Groundswell, The Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, with funds provided by the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) and the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
“Greenpoint has a long history of environmental injustice, from incinerators to waste transfer stations to truck traffic to the city’s largest wastewater treatment plant to the largest oil spill in US history,” said Jeff Mann, President of the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce. “For just as long, many Greenpointers have fought for ‘environmental justice,’ before that phrase even existed. One of our great hopes is that this mural will motivate the students at MS 126, as well as residents and visitors to the community to take up the mantle of environmental activism in Greenpoint.”
The project also received overwhelming support from local electeds, Councilmember Steve Levin and Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who heralded its approach of combining art and environmentalism as a creative means to tackling neighborhood concerns.
“I think this really captures what we imagine our community to be,” said Lentol. “With everyone in this neighborhood coming together for the creation of this mural, we are coming into a new age.”