If These Walls Could Talk

August 17, 2012

Groundswell mural "Piece Out, Peace In" in Crown Heights.

Summer in Brooklyn is when our borough truly comes to life. Neighbors convene on stoops over a shared pitcher of lemonade; kids in a kaleidoscope of colored t-shirts ride the subway to summer camp; parks are packed with runners, readers, and picnickers from dawn ‘til dusk—our communities’ spirit thrives in the warmer months. It’s also during these months that Brooklynites get together to give our neighborhoods a boost, be it with a fresh coat of paint or a new community garden.

Last week, this spirit was in full bloom as we helped announce the winners of the 2012 Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest. Through our Green Communities Fund, for well over a decade our donors have been key supporters of this annual gardening competition organized by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that yields incredible benefits for all our blocks and neighborhoods.  

View the complete list of winners here!

Pictured: Neighbors from the winning residential block, Lincoln Road between Bedford and Rogers Avenues in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, celebrate with Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Community Foundation President Marilyn Gelber, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury.

“It’s with immense pride that we’ve watched the popularity of the contest grow from Park Slope to East Flatbush and well beyond—creating a trail of beautiful blossoms block to block. Greater care for our sidewalks and soil inspires greater concern for our neighbors and stronger bonds across our communities. It is the heart of our mission at the Brooklyn Community Foundation and is truly at the heart of what makes Brooklyn so special.

- Brooklyn Community Foundation President Marilyn Gelber

Also across our borough this summer, new signs of Brooklyn’s spirit are rising up—on exterior walls of apartment buildings, schools, gas stations, and even at the Navy Yard, thanks to our Arts for All Fund grantee Groundswell.

Pictured: Groundswell students at work, including our 2011-12 Peter Jay Sharp Youth Arts Fellow
Gabby Grafakos!

Founded in Brooklyn over 15 years ago, Groundswell is about more than just murals. It’s art as a tool for social change. Groundswell works with low income public school youth to teach them leadership and job skills, guide them to college and careers, and away from many of the issues that led them to Groundswell in the first place.

Right now in Brooklyn, several new murals are being painted by teams of youth ages 14 - 25 under the guidance of talented working artists, to examine such issues as community pride, male accountability, and Brooklyn history.

The process pairs the teens and their mentor artists with community partners—like the Center for Court Innovation, American Friends Service Committee, and NYC Department of Transportation—and local residents and property owners to develop a shared vision and goal. Teens in the Summer Leadership Institute work four days a week, from 9am to 4pm, and are compensated for their efforts. For most, it’s their first job—providing an essential resource to their families, as more than 60% of participants report being on Food Stamps.

These murals are expected to be finished in the next few weeks, so use this email as your guide to follow their progress, and see the results for yourself in person!


  • Brownsville: Making His’tory (512 Rockaway Avenue)

    Working with community partners at the Brownsville Community Justice Center, a team of young men are spending the summer creating a mural dedicated to role models and the male identity, on a wall overlooking a new community garden. Many of Groundswell’s participants are court involved youth fulfilling their community service requirement through the organization. As part of their research in the design process, the team went to the Brooklyn Museum to view the Question Bridge: Black Males exhibit. Working with a Muslim property owner, students faced the challenge of not being able to depict the human face in their design. The end result incorporates a vibrant advertising style, to attract the attention of all who pass by this well-trafficked spot off Pitkin Avenue.


  • Broadway Junction: “I Heart East New York” (Van Sinderen Avenue and Fulton Street)

    In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, youth artists from East New York—many attending Aspirations Diploma Plus High School—are developing a mural on a NYC Parks wall opposite the Broadway Junction subway station. As they considered their assignment, students reimagined the phrase to be “We Believe in and Heart East New York,” to conjure the neighborhood’s past and not yet realized potential. The wall’s design depicts the history of East New York and notable residents via film strip imagery.


  • Brooklyn Navy Yard: “Here Goes Something” (Sands and Navy Streets)

    The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation has commissioned two murals along the Sands Street Gate to illustrate the complete history of the yard, from its original Native American inhabitants, as a holder of prison ships during the Revolutionary War and as a Naval shipyard employing over 70,000 during WWII, to its modern rebirth as a sustainable small business park. The first section was completed this spring by students from adjacent PS 307, many of whom live in the Farragut Houses across the street. Inspired by one-time Navy Yard worker Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States,” part two’s design highlights the struggles of local residents in the 1970s to prevent a trash incinerator from being built on the property. As research, students interviewed community activists including El Puente founder Luis Garden Acosta.

From community gardens to community murals, Brooklyn grows more beautiful each day, while pushing us to be better neighbors and make our borough a stronger, more unified place.

Join us in supporting these efforts! 

What's "Good" in Brooklyn

Here are a few highlights of news and events we’ve shared with our followers this week. Don’t miss a thing! Like us at Facebook.com/DoGoodBklyn and follow us at Twitter.com/DoGoodBklyn.

Washington Avenue Rocks!
From 12-6pm this Saturday, August 18th explore the best of the "Heart of Brooklyn" along Washington Avenue between St. Marks Avenue and Prospect Place. Featuring a taste-off of local restaurants, fashion show, live music, and more. Details

Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival
Also on August 18th, at 3PM young writers from NY Writers Coalition’s free outdoor writing workshops will read alongside literary superstars Earl Lovelace, Tayari Jones, and Jessica Hagedorn at the Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival. The acclaimed CASYM Steel Orchestra will be on hand providing music for the day’s festivities.
The free event will take place at the monument in Fort Greene Park and is open to the public.

Our Summer 2012 Newsletter Is Here!
Download the latest issue here. Want copies to share? Email press@bcfny.org with your request.