Taking art to the streets – literally
by Eric Bishop
May 19, 2009 | 3032 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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When Nicole Rivera saw volunteers sweeping the street Friday outside her apartment at the Whitman-Ingersoll Houses in Fort Greene, she knew something was out of the ordinary.

"I found it interesting because we barely see any good activity around here," she said.

When she learned that they were preparing the road for a community art project, the 17-year-old decided to pitch in, joining an army of volunteers, students and parents for a Saturday of street painting and good cheer.

"Paint the Pavement" was a collaborative initiative designed to liven up and designate the school zone outside P.S. 67, across the street from Whitman-Ingersoll, as well as teach students about the community-building power of public art. Dozens of volunteers and hundreds of kids came together to paint a series of colorful, circular murals, the largest about 20 feet in diameter, along the narrow road that divides the school and the public housing site.

The day wasn't all work and no play. In addition to donning smocks and dipping paintbrushes, participants also snacked on bagels, tossed balls back and forth, and viewed a cheerleading performance, giving the event an air of community celebration.

The project combined the efforts of several organizations, including Community Roots Charter School, P.S. 67, the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project and New York Cares. The city granted permission for the project under the Department of Transportation's Urban Art Program-the first time a street surface was used as a canvas in the program's history.

Funding for the initiative came from Livable Streets Education, a group that partners with schools to educate children about urban livability.

"The idea is to have a community event that brings attention to the fact that it's a school zone," said Kim Wiley-Schwartz, director of Livable Streets Education. She cited the proximity of the street to the school itself, noting that residents don't always take the necessary precautions when zooming by in their cars. "We just want to make sure that people drive with caution-and of course use art as a community-building activity."

The event was also a hands-on lesson in public art for Leslie Elvin's second grade art class at Community Roots Charter School. The students had previously visited public artworks around the city as part of a unit on the subject.

"They learned that public art is something for everyone to enjoy," Elvin said.

The students used traffic safety motifs, such as crosswalk lines and pentagons from school crossing signs, to draw kaleidoscope mandalas. The drawings served as inspiration for local artist Ellie Balk, who designed the master plan for the temporary murals.

"My whole mission is to use paint to bring together community," said Balk, who has become well known for her multi-hued map mural outside Tillie's of Brooklyn in Fort Greene.

Balk was recruited for the project by Meredith Phillips Almeida, director of community development at the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership. Although the partnership mostly works with businesses along Myrtle Avenue, it has expanded its efforts to schools and played a key role in bringing together the groups involved in the project.

"We hope to help schools connect to resources like this in the future," Almeida said. "From our perspective, we try to be stewards of spaces in our community. We think it's exciting that we can help kids take on a similar role."

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