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From Canvas to Concrete: Groundswell's Mission is to Color New York with Purpose

Groundswell, a Gowanus-based nonprofit, creates murals as a spotlight on social justice in the community.

Walking along the streets of Brooklyn, each building has a unique story blooming inside. Many times, however, these stories aren’t obvious to the average passersby.

Groundswell, a Gowanus-based nonprofit, creates murals as a way to change that. 

Through its public art, Groundswell brings some of the hidden life and color from within buildings to the outside for the world to enjoy. 

“What we hope the community gets from the mural when people are walking by is just a feeling of respect,” said Amy Sananman, Groundswell’s founder and interim executive director. “That this was a gift given out of respect and love to the community.”

Each mural that Groundswell creates aims to spotlight a certain social justice issue. Feminism, mental health, affordable housing, environmental justice, and structural racism are just a few of the topics the organization has focused on throughout their murals. 

One mural in particular, Sananman recalls, deeply affected a community member in Brownsville: The piece depicted mass incarceration, an issue the resident had faced within her own family. 

“She said seeing the mural was painful, to see how broad that issue is. But it also made her feel like she wasn't alone,” Sananman said. “There's a bigger structure and system at place.”

Each mural starts with a community partner who commissions the piece in order to further their mission. These partners typically have a desired message or theme in mind, which provides Groundswell a creative diving board to jump off of. Then, resident Groundswell artists will collaborate with a team of young people—usually teens—to brainstorm, sketch out, and eventually paint a cohesive mural. 

“It feels very rewarding seeing incredible work get to be completed and appreciated by the community,” said Brandon Bendter, Groundswell’s Mural Operations Manager and a former youth participant himself.

Although Groundswell is based in Brooklyn, its murals grace the walls of buildings across all five boroughs of New York City. 

“We're really excited to call Brooklyn our home,” Sananman said. “We've created hundreds of murals here in the borough and look forward to continuing to do so into the future.”

This article was made possible through the generous support of Brooklyn Org, allowing us to bring you in-depth coverage of local non-profits working to empower Brooklyn communities. This non-profit organization and others will be featured in Brooklyn Org’s Show Brooklyn Some Love PSA campaign throughout June at sites across Brooklyn.

Katey St. John

About the Author: Katey St. John

Katey St John is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, activist, and baker whose passions lie where food and sustainability intersect.
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