Councilmember Antonio Reynoso joined students of Bushwick’s EBC High School and teaching artist Tom Gleisner to celebrate the unveiling of recently installed art signs that are now beautifying Broadway between Madison Street and Myrtle Avenue.
The student-led effort aims to “Brighten Broadway,” a campaign in partnership with the Public Service Artists Guild (PSAG), and to change the narrative of a corridor that is often thought of as unsightly, uninspiring and dangerous, as EBC student and artist Sergio Suarez explained.
“I grew up on Broadway and everybody knows that this a very dangerous area,” said Suarez. “There is a lot of K2 abuse, and there used to be a lot violence and gangs. Everything you can think of, it probably happened on Broadway.”
The students decided to use art to bring beauty and inspiration back to Broadway. They created 30 art signs that depict inspiring historical figures such as Frederick Douglass, Lady Liberty and President Lincoln in the hopes to spark a more positive narrative for the corridor and its surrounding area.
Tom Gleisner, a former EBC teacher who now volunteers his time to work with the students, explained what inspired the project that became part of the students’ social studies curriculum.
“There’s been a lot of controversy about monuments in America and in New York,” said Gleisner. “We decided to make that the subject of our work. We touched on the lack of diversity in those monuments which feature few women and people of color.”
The students embarked on field trips all around the city and photographed monuments they deemed more positive, inspiring and diverse. They then transformed their photos into multi-colored digital art pieces that are now on display.
EBC principal Shawn Brown is proud of the students and their campaign.
“We believe that through the arts our students are able to express themselves in a way that they sometimes can’t through academics,” said Brown. “And they need to be able to tell their story. The narrative of Bushwick is changing, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”
The project has been made possible through the support of the Department of Transporation, which created the fixtures to mount the art signs on street poles, and a grant from Councilmember Antonio Reynoso’s office. While he as happy to support, he emphasized that the hard work was done by the students who know exactly what they wanted — and needed.
“The students came up to me and said, ‘We want to brighten Broadway and we know that the city will have to be involved in that. So we need you to advocate for us,’” said Reynoso.
“And when they found out that it’s also going to cost something, they said ‘We also need you to pay for it,’” he laughed. “These kids are taking ownership of Broadway. It doesn’t belong to the drug dealers or people who are causing trouble. It belongs to these students. And that is truly remarkable.”