As a freshman city councilmember representing the 35th District of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, Laurie Cumbo, said one of the first things she noticed was that all too often, the community came together for press conferences and during times of challenge or tragedy.
She wanted to change that dynamic. So, in 2015, she initiated a community mural project. She approached Groundswell, a NYC-based program that works with underserved youth and professional artists, in collaboration with more than 300 community-based organizations, to create public art projects.
On Thursday, Cumbo saw her dream project begin to take shape, as more than 100 participants of all ages, backgrounds and religious faiths—Jewish, Muslim, Caribbean, African-American, Asian—come together at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum to paint the prototype for what is shaping up to be, perhaps, the biggest community-involved mural to date.
“This mural project was really an opportunity for us to come together to create something beautiful,” said Cumbo. “It has been a process of meetings, figuring out what the mural should look like, telling the story of the community, who represents the community and expressing both our realities and our ideals—what would we ideally like to see.”
The design and concept of the mural, entitled, “One Crown Heights,” were created by the youth artists of Groundswell. The sketch was then enlarged onto a giant-sized paper canvass for the community to paint. The larger, painted prototype will then be repainted as a duplicate mural .
“We wanted to make sure that we isolated and painted the actual realities of what was going on in Crown Heights between the African-American, Caribbean and Jewish communities, “ said Nathaniel James, 20, one of the artists on the Groundswell youth team.
James began working with Groundswell as a high school student in its afterschool program. Eventually, he joined the team and has continued painting. He said he has helped to complete six murals so far.
“If you look at the history of the two cultures, you actually see a correlation,” said James. “So in this mural, although you see the challenges, we also tried to have them correlate and show their involvement in a peaceful sense.”
So far, two panels of the enlarged sketch were completed. There will be one or two more painting parties to complete the other panels. The project is scheduled to be completed by April or early May and will be installed at a location that has not yet been determined, said Cumbo.
“This project is important because it is a reminder of why this community is so special, and that’s really its diversity,” said Cumbo. “And I don’t mean diversity for the visual sake; it has to be weaved together, worked at, something that you’re committed to every day.
“Too often, we tend to work in our own cultural comfort zones. But there are also times where we’re able to come together and work collaboratively. What we are seeing today is that togetherness– where communities do work to build the type of connections that are so valuable.”