Brooklyn Heights

‘Wild’ new mural dedicated at Atlantic Ave. entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park

June 14, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A new mural, “Into the Wild, Brooklyn” by Nelson Rivas (“Cekis”), was dedicated on Monday. The piece graces the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway underpass on Atlantic Avenue leading to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The once-desolate area is now considered to be the "Atlantic Avenue Gateway" to the park. Photo by Mary Frost

Officials cut the ribbon on a “wild” new mural Monday at the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) underpass at the Atlantic Avenue entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP).

The lushly-colored work completes the transformation of the once-grim underpass into what’s being called the Atlantic Avenue Gateway, connecting the shops of Atlantic Avenue to the park.  

The mural, which covers the entire south wall of the underpass, was created by Brooklyn-based artist Nelson Rivas, aka Cekis. Rivas, who was born in Chile, was chosen from a pool of 28 artists.

Titled “Into the Wild, Brooklyn,” the artwork is inspired by the natural environment and industry of the Brooklyn waterfront, Rivas said. Design elements include the East River, the container cranes that line the Red Hook Marine Terminal, BBP’s piers and the park’s plants and trees.

The mural is “a mix of what I found interesting here and what I do on a daily basis in my work,” Rivas told the Brooklyn Eagle. Rivas’ work is on display in Sunset Park, on Fulton Street, in Spruce Creek and in Manhattan.

As an immigrant, the theme of fences comes up in his work, he said. “I tried to use some specific fences from this area, and some landscape. Fences and wires, that’s my kind of work.”

Rivas says he is trying to change the experience of walking through the underpass.

“The people walking here, they never stop. They’re always going somewhere else. It is a short time people pass by, by car or bus, so I wanted to do create some sort of motion and an overall image.”

His goal? “Just to make it a little more interesting and fun, and give life to his forgotten place,” he said. “I just wanted to bring some joy and transform the experience for people passing by this area.”

Bridging BBP and Atlantic Avenue’s Retail

Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer said the ribbon cutting was both a celebration of the talent of the artist and the collaboration of groups who made the mural possible.

“Nelson is really a great artist,” Myer said. “We were really blessed, and we had a wonderful joint process. Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Atlantic Avenue BID [Business Improvement District] and the New York City Department of Transportation worked together to find qualified artists. We set up a selection process where we received really strong proposals and the selection committee chose Nelson because we were so impressed with his proposal.”

“Atlantic Avenue is a key corridor for the park,” she added. Not only does the mural enliven the entrance, “it’s a fantastic bridge between the retail activity of Atlantic Avenue and the park. For us, Atlantic Avenue is a key part of our neighborhood. I’ve shopped on Atlantic Avenue personally my entire time living in Brooklyn, and having that connection is amazing.”

Past initiatives to strengthen that connection included making sure the B63 bus came directly into the park, and siting Citi Bikes at the entrance, Myer said.

Josef Szende, executive director of planning for the Atlantic Avenue BID, told the Eagle, “We selected an artist who has captured elements of New York City’s urban jungle and created a little oasis between Brooklyn Bridge Park and the small businesses on Atlantic Avenue.

“We appreciate the support of the project partners that can make this happen for our organization, which is really tiny,” Szende added. “We can only do things like this when we get assistance from the public sector like the DOT and the private sector partners and Brooklyn Bridge Park.” Investors Bank and Avery Hall Investments contributed to the project.

Szende also stressed the concept of the overpass as a “gateway” to the park.

“The idea is that this space, which is effectively an archway, should be viewed as an entrance into Brooklyn itself going upland, and the entrance to the world-class park on the waterfront.” He said the BID hopes to add wayfinding signs in the future.

Atlantic Avenue BID member Sandy Balboza, who serves on the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (CAC), feels that the mural will help calm traffic.

“You have seniors and dogs and people with strollers … you see how complicated the traffic is here,” Balboza noted. Even though a pedestrian crossing on an on-ramp to the BQE was recently made safer, “it’s still very hard to cross,” she said. “The more you do these sorts of improvements, the [more] cars respond differently.”

Linda DeRosa, president of the Willowtown Association, said the dedication was a happy gathering.

“We feel that Atlantic Avenue should be the primary entrance to the park, and we’re happy to support that. I know they’re also trying to work on a lighting scheme with DOT, which would be fabulous,” she said.

Rivas mural completes the artistic transformation of the underpass. In 2013, a mural on the north wall, “Moving Along,” was completed by youth working with Groundswell, DOT and  the Atlantic Avenue BID.