Groundswell, New York’s leading organization dedicated to community public art, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and New York City Council Public Housing Chair Ritchie Torres collaborated on a major one-year initiative entitled “Public Art / Public Housing.” The pieces were designed and installed by a total of 200 young adult NYCHA residents ages 16-24, in the transformation of vacant walls throughout public housing developments in all five boroughs. The tenant's association at each development guided the creation of three mural projects, for a total of 15 new public artworks throughout New York City.
We Elevate Ourselves, the first mural installed in the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement Community Center at Queensbridge Houses, promotes peaceful conflict resolution as a method to combat gun violence. The young artists’ goal was to depict the complex emotional transformation that occurs as a result of peaceful conflict resolution.
The location of the mural, a doorway within the community center, is representative of the protective haven that a unified community provides. Both sides of the doors are decorated with different images that are cohesive within the mural; opening the door causes the men depicted to embrace and changes the illustration of the eagle. The eagle is representative of pride and honor, which can have both positive and negative effects on one’s actions, embodied by the eagle’s two heads. When the doors open the second head that signifies self-righteousness disappear, symbolic of the benefit of diplomatic communication and community engagement. Additionally, a theme of family and embrace is relevant throughout the mural; this is depicted by the mother figure within the center of the mural as well as the joining of various characters by handshake or hug. The tree that grows from three men’s embrace illustrates the growth that communities will experience through peaceful conflict resolution.
The young artists incorporated imagery that would inspire the audience to think about family, resilience, environmental influences on gun violence, community, and spiritual connection. The dense symbolic meanings incorporated in this mural are appropriate in addressing complex issues such as gun violence.
Long Island City Journal – Artists unveil murals at Queensbridge Houses
Smithsonian – New York City Is Paying Public Housing Residents to Paint Murals
Observer – New City Program Brings Art by Public Housing’s Own Residents to its Walls
New York Times – Wielding Paint Brushes, Not Spray Cans, at a Bronx Housing Project
City Lab – Youth Artists Are Painting Gorgeous Murals Inside New York City Public Housing
Nonprofit Quarterly – Mural Project Gives Young NYC Artists a Venue for Public Voice