On any given day at Bushwick's Knickerbocker Plaza, you'll find street vendors selling cultural trinkets and homemade food; people playing music on a stereo; and families seated around the provided tables.
The newest addition to the Plaza was revealed Saturday, September 24, right above the original Tony’s Pizzeria of the 1970s: a bright mural with the message "Bushwick is Beautiful."
Salvatore Polizzi, co-owner of family-owned Tony's Pizzeria, spearheaded the Bushwick is Beautiful Initiative with the support of his family, Brooklyn Community Board 4, and local business owners and organizations who expressed concerns over Knickerbocker Avenue's appearance.
The message, he said, is to show Knickerbocker Avenue hasn't been forgotten.
“Knickerbocker Ave has been struggling with the pandemic and its aftermath. It's adjusting to new ways of doing business. A lot of it has turned online,” said Polizzi. “We needed something to bring people back and stir an economic boom.
The whole point is to connect the art with the community, with the kids, with the old-timers. Bushwick is not just one set of people; it's a whole community of people," Polizzi continued, "whether you're new here, you just got here or you've been here for three generations."
Conversations over the mural began in early 2021. Involved with the initial funding were the non-profit organization Riseboro Community Partnership and last year’s Councilmember for District 37, Darma Diaz.
After six months, however, the plan fell through. The building owner of the mural’s original location below the M train station at Knickerbocker Plaza had reservations on the heavy equipment needed for the mural.
“These funds were now up in the air,” explained Polizzi. “They were supposed to be used to beautify the Plaza through the arts. If we didn't use the funds, we would lose the funds or it would be repurposed to another project.”
Despite the obstacle, Polizzi still wanted a location that would connect with Knickerbocker Plaza. A mural, he said, would invigorate this sense of community and attract attention to the issues of illegal dumping in the area. The available space right above his pizzeria on an adjacent building made the most sense to Polizzi as it was still visible from the Plaza.
“Whether you're walking, sitting down, or driving, you get a view of something that is dramatic and colorful,” said Polizzi.
Polizzi decided to reach out to Naylor first due to his other contributions to the neighborhood. In a partnership with the Clean Bushwick Initiative, Naylor created the “Keep Bushwick Litter Free” mural on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and Troutman Street.
“I spread messages of positivity, hope, and love using large scale, color, and word as a vehicle to deliver the message,” said Naylor. “Putting messages out there is vulnerable, but I don’t want the piece to look vulnerable. I want the piece to look proud.”
The mural would not have been possible without the locally based company Graf-X Media and Dynamic Installation, which assumed some of the costs of the scaffolding.
As of now, Polizzi is still trying to connect with local officials and the Brooklyn Chambers of Commerce but encourages people to send a direct message to his handle @bestpizzeriainbrooklyn if they feel they can contribute to the project in some way.
“We will have more people involved as the project grows. It's a small project right now but it's ambitious,” said Polizzi.