CITYarts Seeks Support for Chelsea Mural Projects | chelseanow.com

CITYarts Seeks Support for Chelsea Mural Projects

Tsipi Ben-Haim, in front of the newly restored Harlem Peace Wall on W. 138th St., with astronaut Leland Melvin, who recently spoke to middle and high schoolers at a CITYarts sponsored event. Photo courtesy CITYarts.

Tsipi Ben-Haim, in front of the newly restored Harlem Peace Wall on W. 138th St., with astronaut Leland Melvin, who recently spoke to middle and high schoolers at a CITYarts sponsored event. Photo courtesy CITYarts.

BY SEAN EGAN | Their mission is to empower youth and transform communities — but some locals, feeling out of the loop, are putting up a wall of resistance.

A nonprofit group responsible for more than 300 mural projects and “Peace Walls” around the city and abroad, CITYarts has plans for Clement Clarke Moore Park (W. 22nd St. & 10th Ave.) and Gertrude B. Kelly Playground (W. 17th St. & Eighth Ave.). With these projects in the very early stages of development and preparation, CITYarts’ Executive and Creative Director Tsipi Ben-Haim attended the Community Board 4 (CB4) Waterfront, Parks, & Environment Committee (WPE) meeting on Thurs., Feb. 11, to deliver a presentation about the proposed murals.

At a Feb. 11 CB4 meeting, CITYarts representative Tsipi Ben-Haim (under clock) gave a presentation on murals her organization plans for two local parks. Photo by Sean Egan.

At a Feb. 11 CB4 meeting, CITYarts representative Tsipi Ben-Haim (under clock) gave a presentation on murals her organization plans for two local parks. Photo by Sean Egan.

Before CITYarts’ presentation was an informational session during which the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation described their new “Parks Without Borders” initiative. This initiative, according to the Parks representative, would open parks up more to their surrounding areas, often by eliminating unsightly barriers, and creating more easily accessible entrances to the parks.

The WPE members were apprehensive, though they acknowledged the initiative’s applications could indeed be useful. CB4 member J.D. Noland noted that many of Chelsea’s parks are quite small, making their barriers/fences useful — and suggested that the area’s lack of green space, and improvements to existing parks, would be more useful issues for the Department to address.

A mural in Clement Clarke Moore Park would be painted on the wall of a privately owned building, whose owner supports the project. Photo courtesy CITYarts.

A mural in Clement Clarke Moore Park would be painted on the wall of a privately owned building, whose owner supports the project. Photo courtesy CITYarts.

CITYarts received similar apprehension from the WPE after Ben-Haim’s presentation. In it, she provided examples of the work that CITYarts had done in the past, their programs, and explained why the locations were chosen.

“I believe when kids create, they do not destroy,” Ben-Haim said, in a phone interview with Chelsea Now prior to the meeting. CITYarts, in preparation for the construction of the murals, runs workshops with kids in order to source ideas that will later be incorporated into the mural design. In addition, Ben-Haim described outings where she brought Chelsea youths to local galleries, such as the Gogoshen to see a Lichtenstein mural, in order for them to gain access to world-class art and seek inspiration. It’s all part of her goal to get kids to take pride in and ownership of their parks, and enjoy their communities at large.

A view of the large, black wall at Gertrude B. Kelly Playground, which Ben-Haim says makes the park dark and “difficult for kids to be inspired.” Photo courtesy CITYarts.

A view of the large, black wall at Gertrude B. Kelly Playground, which Ben-Haim says makes the park dark and “difficult for kids to be inspired.” Photo courtesy CITYarts.

On the locations, she explained that both were picked because the parks face large walls, which block light and can make them seem dark and drab. She also revealed that CITYarts had already obtained permission to work on part of the wall in Clement Clarke Moore Park from the owner of the building, and were seeking to get permission to work on the entire wall.

Noland expressed dismay for the entire enterprise, saying that he had a general dislike for murals in parks. In particular he expressed trepidation at the ones Ben-Haim described as “never really offensive,” and without any religious, political or sexual themes — “bad art,” Noland quipped.

Residents were taken aback by the uninformed assertion made by this CITYarts flyer, which says the busy Clement Clarke Moore Park “feels abandoned.” Flyer courtesy CITYarts.

Residents were taken aback by the uninformed assertion made by this CITYarts flyer, which says the busy Clement Clarke Moore Park “feels abandoned.” Flyer courtesy CITYarts.

To highlight an alternative (albeit in a manner that did not acknowledge the reality that these were separate, not competing, efforts), Noland advocated for the support of the restoration of Arnold Belkin’s “Against Domestic Colonialism” — a mural at Mathews-Palmer Playground (btw. W. 45th & W. 46th Sts., and Ninth & 10th Aves.), which he asserted had a distinct, political point-of-view and artistic merit.

 

Ben-Haim did her best to address the concerns voiced by those present. In an attempt to satiate Noland’s objections, she highlighted the fact that while children would be responsible for ideas for the design and help in the execution, a professional artist would supervise the entire project. In addition, she mentioned that Bisazza, a mosaic company with a flagship store in Chelsea, has worked with the group in the past, and offered to help with the project as well.

In response to member Bob Trentlyon’s supposition that the project would be akin to painting “la-di-dah” on a wall, without community input, Ben-Haim maintained that she very much wants, and welcomes, community input. She also noted that while she liked to make the process seem fun and “la-di-dah,” it actually amounts to a months of preparation before any art is actually made.

“I’m not just coming and schmearing your wall,” said Ben-Haim, later asserting to the crowd, “I would like you to be part of the volunteers that will help.”

She also addressed concerns about the upkeep of the mural, citing instances of CITYarts restoring their works after a number of years, as well as graffiti removal, which CITYarts performs, made easy by a sealant they use on the art.

Many were also confused about how the project began to go forward without appearing before CB4 and block associations, and inquired about who gave CITYarts permission. It was explained that the walls in question were not publically owned, and CITYarts only needed the permission of the building owners to alter them. She also noted that that she had support from the Parks Department to do the work.

In addition, Ben-Haim claimed that she went to a block association meeting to present the project, and was well-received. She did not, however, attend a block association meeting, as members of the West 400 Block Association — including President Mary Swartz — were present to point out. After some confusion, it became clear that Ben-Haim had attended a CB4 full board meeting, and erroneously believed it to be a block association meeting.

In the end, as the presentation was not being put up to a vote, the WPE made clear that they’d defer to the opinions of the block associations associated with the sites. They noted that while they didn’t object to the idea — and agreed about the unsightliness of the wall at Gertrude B. Kelly Playground — CITYarts needed to engage with the community and the people who would actually use the parks.

“It’s an interesting idea to put the mural up,” said Swartz in a phone interview with Chelsea Now on Mon., Feb. 15. She first learned of the project at the WPE meeting, and challenged Ben-Haim’s assertion that Clement Clarke Moore Park (which falls in the group’s area of coverage) “feels abandoned” — a phrase used in a CITYarts flyer that promoted their Chelsea initiatives.

Tsipi Ben-Haim (on ladder) and volunteers during the restoration of “The Nature of This Flower is to Bloom,” a CITYarts mural at W. 92nd St. & Broadway. Photo courtesy CITYarts.

Tsipi Ben-Haim (on ladder) and volunteers during the restoration of “The Nature of This Flower is to Bloom,” a CITYarts mural at W. 92nd St. & Broadway. Photo courtesy CITYarts.

Following the meeting, the West 400 Block Association sent out an email, summarizing the project and the WPE meeting, and called for the community to weigh in on the mural proposal. According to Swartz, the group was getting some “slow feedback” to the outreach — both in favor and against, as well as general questions.

Swartz stated that she would meet with Ben-Haim about the project and how/if to move forward “once we pull together the general feeling of the Block Association and the community,” with particular attention to area parents and children who use the park.

To give feedback or ask questions about the project at Clement Clarke Moore Park, email w400ba@gmail.com. For info on CITYarts, visit cityarts.org. To contribute suggestions to the Parks Without Borders initiative, visit nycgovparks.org/planning-and-building/planning/parks-without-borders.