The India Street Mural Project Wants to Lure You In
In one of his glorious books of poems, Shel Silverstein wrote, “There is a place where the sidewalk ends, And before the street begins, and there the grass grows soft and white, and there the sun burns crimson bright, And there the moon-bird rests from his flight, to cool in the peppermint wind.” Unfortunately, that place is not—nor has it ever been—Greenpoint. Instead, our sidewalks end in fences and obstructions, forgotten structures preventing passersby from viewing the dazzling waterfront views that make our neighborhood unique. Enter NbPAC—the North Brooklyn Public Arts Coalition—a non-profit organization dedicated to taking those neglected alleyways and crumbling walls, street ends and eyesores, and turning them into something beautiful. Their first endeavor? The India Street Mural Project.
The India Street Mural has been in the works for the better part of the month of June in spite of stormy weather. Eight local artists, who were chosen in mid-May by a panel of ten artists, art enthusiasts and community members to each paint a portion of the mural—all expenses paid—have been working away, turning the dull, drab, neglected India Street Wall into a colorful and lively piece of art, a true community effort.
“This initiative is all about recreating and rebuilding spaces that have been ignored and under-utilized, and renewing them for the community, framing them differently through art,” said Rami Metal, NbPAC founding member and the Greenpoint/Williamsburg liaison for councilmember David Yassky.
Last Thursday, NbPAC hosted their first art show/auction/fundraising event, in conjunction with the Re/Build show at Gallery 1889 on Manhattan Avenue, in order to secure the last thousand dollars necessary to meet the mural’s $16,000 budget. Gallery 1889 offered to donate their space as long as NbPAC didn’t mind integrating the show currently on display—Re/Build, which asked artists to create pieces exclusively out of raw materials found in the gallery, such as scrap metal. And, as it turned out, Re/Build in fact enhanced NbPAC’s mission even further by reinforced the notion of reusing materials, re-imagining resources and revitalizing that which is dull and ignored. The gallery show boasted one piece donated by each participating muralist displayed for auction, an artist calling himself Zito painting oil portraits of gallery-goers willing to pose (and shell out $40), inventor/sculptor Dan Harper—whose work was already being displayed in the gallery as part of Re/Build—giving haircuts in the gallery window and the Brooklyn Printmaking Collective silk-screening logos onto tote bags in the back room.
“We were lucky. It became so obvious when we realized that the show already up at the gallery was Re/Build, a group of artists from Williamsburg reusing materials, because that’s what we’re about,” said Ciara McKeown, Director of NbPAC and one of the primary organizers of the fundraiser. “So many of artists use public space, and it was great to see them reusing what resources are available in a gallery space, as well as in a public space, which is what we do.”
The India Street Mural itself will consist of six different pieces, several of which reference the past, present and future of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg built and natural environment. Chris Soria’s piece, Antiquated Giant, includes vivid images of extinct species, skeletons and the old Greenpoint Terminal Market, a nod to the disappearance of industry and the changing nature of the neighborhood, while Ali Aschman’s seascape is adorned with thick black drops as if to evoke the sordid history of our very own Newtown Creek. Including art pieces that reference their surroundings—as well as the rich and complicated history of Greenpoint/Williamsburg—not only creates the intellectual and physical space for art as environment, but also fosters a sense of the re-imagination of neighborhood as a community-building exercise.
“This was a way to incentivize people to discover this space, this new open space, to lead them down that long long block, because it was fairly uninviting before hand,” Metal continued. “India street brought into question what these street ends were, the industrial past of Greenpoint and how it has changed, and the middle process between industrial and residential. It brings attention to the waterfront—to these neglected spaces—and asks people to re-imagine what could be, and what will be here in the future, and having artists working in the public arena invites them into a more active role with their environment, it invites commentary.”
Though the mural is a purely civic endeavor—$8,000 was provided by Councilmember Yassky, however since then NbPAC has existed as a separate, non-political entity—its message is an inherently political one. Beautifying a street end is meant to draw attention to just that—and the fact that, despite the 2005 rezoning promises, the waterfront is still fenced off, and after four years there are still no parks to speak of.
However, as the mural inches closer to completion, the gaze of one strolling along the waterfront may not be so melancholy: Instead of lack of park, they will see plenty of art.
“I watch people walk by and bike by, and it’s clear: they are becoming interesting in the space and that was one of our goals,” McKeown said. “It’s tough out there right now, but it’s amazing that people are so appreciative of art and their neighborhood.”
So, while the grass may not yet grow soft and white at the end of India Street, at least we’ve got something to feast our eyes on while we’re waiting for a park where the sidewalk ends.
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