Once-troubled youth use murals to transform Brownsville

Youth With History of Probation Find Outlet To Uplift Spirit in Brownsville

August 31, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Led by artists Crystal Bruno and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez and project director Patrick Dougher of Groundswell, “The Wall of Reflect,” an 80-foot long mural on Pitkin Avenue, was created as part of an effort to change the perception of Brownsville, Brooklyn. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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Dozens of artists and community members gathered together on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville for the unveiling of a huge 53-by-80-foot mural titled “The Wall of Reflect” on Friday.

The mural, the final in the two-year “Transform/Restore: Brownsville” series of five murals in the neighborhood, was created with the help of the New York City Department of Probation, Groundswell and the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District along with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. It was created by young adults on probation as a way to support and create permanent change in Brownsville.

“This is a momentous day,” said Daniel Murphy, executive director of Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District. “It is the culmination of two years’ worth of work between several partners, agencies, public agencies, not-for-profits, artists and residents. Anyone who has walked down these streets and has felt intense pride in this neighborhood knows that it is undervalued and we want to show its true colors.

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“It’s a celebration of what this neighborhood is, what it has been in the past and what it will be in the future.”

Many in attendance remarked that they hoped that this mural, along with the other four created over the last two years, help change the way that the neighborhood is perceived. It is also a way to clean up the area as walls that were previously defaced with graffiti were transformed and, so far, no one has marked the murals.

“When you Google Brownsville, the first thing that comes up is crime rates and murder rates,” said Patrick Dougher, the project director from Groundswell. “We want to flip that. We have to flip that because that is not representative of what this community is. That’s a false representation. My hope is that this mural will start to bring light to the hidden treasures of this community.”

The mural was created in the tradition of the People’s Art practice. Crystal Bruno, also known as Crystal Clarity, and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez, were the lead artists in charge, but the mural also received contributions from youth participants and Brownsville volunteers.

“I was really moved by the way the community didn’t just pass us by as we were working on this,” said Bruno. “Instead they stopped to ask questions and got involved in their own way. The community of Brownsville really embraced this project.”

The brightly colored design incorporated elements of the neighborhood such as the ironwork fences that are common in Brownsville. Its many stylized frames had portraits of residents from the area.

“This mural is inspired, in part, by Chicago’s famed 1967 ‘Wall of Respect,’ a mural that helped launch the community arts movement in the United States,” said Groundswell Executive Director Rob Krulak. “We at Groundswell are privileged to help carry this tradition forward in Brownsville in collaboration with the community and our youth artists. This monumental mural will be a new landmark in Brownsville, rooted in the neighborhood’s history and traditions.”

The mural is located on the side of the Lindo Home Furniture store on Pitkin Avenue between Legion and Grafton streets. The other four murals in the series are within walking distance along Pitkin Avenue.

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