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East Village Graffiti Used for Lessons

By Patrick Hedlund | February 15, 2011 12:41pm

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — Graffiti will provide a colorful lesson in New York City history under one teacher's plan to use the East Village's street-art scene as a guide for discussing critical issues in the changing neighborhood.

Lindsey Albracht, a former East Village resident who teaches students from the International House study-abroad program, decided to incorporate the once-gritty area's artistic traditions into a lesson plan for her teenage pupils who are studying English.

"It's really daunting to break down this entire neighborhood for people who might not know much about it," said Albracht, 24, noting that her students come from more than dozen different countries around the globe for the up-to-six-week program. "I thought that was a really engaging way to do it."

The students, ages 13 to 18, visited institutions like MoMA last summer during their lesson on arts and entertainment, but "for some of them there was no context to set it up," Albracht explained.

So she devised a course plan that will lead the students on a tour of the East Village's ubiquitous murals, encouraging them to discuss issues of art in public space and how it is reflected in their own countries.

"This is such a multidimensional place — if you spend a significant amount of time [in New York] and your goal is to explore the culture here and not just go see things that are the flashiest and [most] exciting," she said. "If you take them off the beaten path, they're going to start talking about things on their own."

Albracht conceived the lesson after hearing recently that a mural on Avenue C of President Obama by well-known local artist Antonio "Chico" Garcia was painted over.

The circumstances surrounding the mural's erasure — the cable company that owns the building the piece was painted on said it didn't want a politically charged work on its property — would provide the basis for a mock City Council debate the students will have regarding graffiti, Albracht said.

The students will discuss reasons to either preserve or remove the piece, from the perspective of area residents, artists, building owners, developers and advertisers.

Garcia said the Avenue C wall, where he's been painting and repainting murals for more than 20 years, could itself act as a history lesson for the students.

The artist described the multiple iterations of his work that have graced the half-block-long wall, from the original mural he did there for a center for people with disabilities, to a work celebrating the Yankees-Mets "Subway Series," to his final piece lauding Obama's election.

The newly painted wall at the corner of Avenue C and 6th Street in Alphabet City.
The newly painted wall at the corner of Avenue C and 6th Street in Alphabet City.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

"It's a memory thing — you have to remember," said Garcia, 47, noting that a small section of the wall where he once painted a tribute to a young neighborhood girl who had been brutally murdered drew lots of attention from local youth.

"Who cares about [the] Mona Lisa? She's gone," he added. "Let's talk about now."

While Garcia's work has generally been left alone — many local merchants used his murals to beautify their buildings while simultaneously staving off vandalism — the artist said the greatest threat came from advertisers willing to pay top dollar to put billboards over his pieces.

In Albracht's lesson plan, students would also explore the idea of "'ownership' of a neighborhood or a privatized public space that is still very much in the public's view."

"We're making sure we're giving them a real idea of what it's like to live in New York, outside the traditional things tourists see," she said. "We want to take it a little deeper than that."

The edited mural following Obama's win.
The edited mural following Obama's win.
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