Mural Grows in a Harlem Garde
up from the subway station at Lexington Avenue and 116th
street, the idea of green space seems very far away indeed. Windows
are boarded up, bodega awnings offer scant shade, and a few thin
trees sticking up from the sidewalk provide little comfort if
you’re looking for something a bit softer than cement.
In these urban areas, community gardens serve as spaces to gather
and enjoy simply being outside, pleasures often lost in the daily
grind of city life.
Unfortunately, they also suffer from a chronic lack of funds,
leaving many gardens in disarray.
This July, students from Summerbridge/ Breakthrough used their
artistic talents to make two community gardens and a community
center façade in East Harlem more pleasant for neighbors that
look at them every day.
The students, middle schoolers attending a tuition-free summer
program at the Town School in which they take classes taught by
high-school and college students, met with Gustavo Asto of SmartWorks,
an arts education service group, to plan the mural they’ve painted
in the Block Association Community Garden on East 116th
Street. Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot, local hardware shops and
Materials for the Arts, a division of the N.Y.C. Sanitation Department,
donated the supplies, while Met Food Markets provided snacks.
told them this is a community garden,” says Asto, “and brainstormed
about what that means,” discussing concepts ranging from garden
vegetables to fertility symbols. Asto joined a number of student
drawings into a final design, which features gushing water and
flowers growing against a brightly colored background. Modifications
and additions came along the way. One student began painting smaller
decorative flowers, and others followed suit; another noticed
that a curling vine looked like the letter “s,” and a spot for
the Summerbridge logo was found.
very much the artistic process,” comments Asto. “[The primed wall]
is really unimpressive the first day.”
The students admit that they had their doubts. “At first I thought
it was going to be ugly,” says 7th grader Elizabeth
Mejia. She now thinks that neighborhood residents will like the
mural, “because I enjoy looking at it.” During the first steps,
recalls 7th grader Jennifer Chicon, “it feels like
you’re wasting your time.” Examining the finished product, however,
she says, “it looks colorful and it looks real, too.”
concept of] finishing is often a difficult thing for kids this
age,” observes Asto. Painting a mural, he believes, helps them
develop a sense of responsibility. “It’s often one of the major
things they’ve accomplished in their young lives,” he notes. “Hopefully,
that sense of completion will continue with them.”
learning that they’re doing something for the community,” adds
Summerbridge teacher and Barnard student Joana Yip. “That in itself
is a learning experience for them. When people walk by down the
street and they say, ‘Wow, you’re doing something really nice,’
that’s when it clicks.”
Despite the challenges of the long process and hours spent painting
in the summer heat, 7th grader Jenna Perez says that
she had “lots of fun.”
was fun ‘cause actually I like getting paint on my face,” volunteers
Jhana Meyers. “Gustavo, he said my [paint-covered] shirt looked
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