By Tara Kyle
HELL'S KITCHEN — A crumbling, nearly forty-year-old mural in a Hell's Kitchen Park may soon get a top-to-bottom restoration.
The mural "Against Domestic Colonialism" was considered an early example of a burgeoning socially conscious public art movement when artist Arnold Belkin created it in 1972 in the Matthews-Palmer Playground between Ninth and Tenth avenues and W. 45th and 46th streets.
Today, it's one of just a handful of New York murals surviving from that era, according to Jane Weissman, author of "On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City." Yet so much paint has flaked off over the years that it's difficult to see some of the characters.
"It's a part of the history of the playground, the neighborhood and the community, and it's a part of the history of the country," said Allison Tupper, a retired schoolteacher and treasurer of the West 46th Street Block Association.
The mural, painted in a folk art style, depicts a bulldozer, luxury high-rise, and residents bearing leaflets that say, "The neighborhood is for the people not big business."
This summer, Rescue Public Murals, a program of the Washington D.C.-based Heritage Preservation Inc., plans to conduct an assessment of the condition of the mural, at the request of the block association.
The study, funded with $3,000 collected by 46th Street residents, would determine whether a restoration of the "very much deteriorated" artwork is even feasible.
If restoration does go forward, it would occur during the summer of 2012 and could cost in the range of $75,000 to $100,000, Weissman said.
The proposal comes at a time when Matthews-Palmer Playground is already experiencing a renewal. After nearby Hell's Kitchen Park (Tenth Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets) got a renovation several years ago, young families moved out of Matthews-Palmer, abandoning it to rowdy teenagers.
That changed a few months ago, when students at P.S. 51 elementary school lost use of their schoolyard to a construction project and began to spend their lunch hours at Matthews-Palmer.
The school community has already repainted basketball court lines and planted flower beds, PTA member Katherine Consuelo-Johnson said. Next, they'll repaint a wall dividing the basketball court from the play area with paint donated by the Clinton Housing Development Company.
Since the students may need to spend the next few years lunching in the park due to ongoing construction, further improvements like the mural restoration could only help, according to Consuelo-Johnson.
"I think the mural is amazing," she said. "It means a lot to people in the community."