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Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) 2009
This summer, youth in the Bronx and in Harlem painted murals that will provide sources of pride and inspiration for years to come. With funding provided by Rolin Foundation, the murals “What We Want, What We Believe,” and “Nature’s Playground” were created by 28 young people collaborating with four professional artists and six community groups.

90% of the participating youth live below the poverty line. Taking part in a curriculum based on the ”4 C’s” (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and compassion), the group showed tremendous growth by the time the projects were complete, some even deciding to come back to Groundswell in the fall to join its after-school program. The press paid attention too, and projects were covered by the New York Times, NY1 and ABC7.

Black Panther

What We Want, What We Believe
Acrylic on Brick: 30 x 120 ft, 2009
Location: VIM Store, 2253 Third Avenue (122nd Street and Third Avenue), New York, NY 10035

“What We Want, What We Believe” is a monumental mural inspired by the work of legendary artist Emory Douglas. The mural project is in conjunction with the major retrospective “Emory Douglas: Black Panther” that was on display at the New Museum on the Bowery through the fall of 2009.

Emory Douglas was the revolutionary African-American artist who designed the layout and oversaw production for the party’s newspaper, the Black Panther, creating a vocabulary of images that exemplify how art can encourage political consciousness.

In partnership with New Museum and The Studio Museum in Harlem, Groundswell youth and artists Clare Herron and Chris Beck have brought to life an original design based on Douglas’s work. Taking the concerns of local people and “re-mixing” images from three of Douglas’s images from the newspaper with two of his more recent images, “What We Want, What We Believe” is a reflection of this Harlem community’s past, present, and future.

The theme of the mural is “Educate to Liberate.” One community issue that many people spoke about during the neighborhood surveys was the lack of parent involvement in their children’s lives, and a generation gap that resulted in a lack of knowledge being passed down by older generations. Each of the images is contained within interlocking gears -- an image chosen by the youth to represent knowledge and the connection of different generations and races to create a system that works. This is the first large scale public artwork celebrating the work of Emory Douglas in New York City.

Nature's Playground

Nature’s Playground
Acrylic on Brick: 18 x 75 ft, 2009
Location: 1794 E 172nd Street, Bronx, NY 10472

“Nature’s Playground” brings to life local environmental issues in the Bronx, specifically the Bronx River. The mural team wanted to raise awareness about the benefits that preserving and restoring the river would bring to the community. They discussed imagery that would show the river in a positive light, using animals as a substitute for people. The images were chosen from exercises dealing with positive childhood memories, and using local New York animals that are now, or have been in the past, native to the Bronx.

The overall concept is that the river and the community are one -- and that to restore the Bronx River is to restore the community. The buildings depicted are based on local ones around the school and the canoe is a reference to the Bronx River Alliance’s canoeing trips down the Bronx River. The result is a very colorful and uplifting work that builds local interest in the Bronx River.

This mural was part of the Trust for Public Land’s “Schoolyard to Playground” schoolyard renovation project. A group of the youth participating was from the Phipps NYC Justice Corp, a job-training program for court involved youth.


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