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Youth Paint the History of the Navy Yard on its Walls

By Janet Upadhye | August 3, 2012 12:16pm

BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — Under the hot sun of a recent afternoon in Brooklyn, youth working with Groundswell’s Community Mural Project painted the Navy Yard’s outer wall.

When finished, the wall will be covered in a mural, depicting scenes throughout the yard's history — from its inception to ideas for its future — all from the point of view of the worker.

“This project is a partnership between the Navy Yard and Groundswell,” said Joel Bergner, one of the artists supervising the project. “The youth learned about the history of the yards through interviews with current workers and community members. They also looked through archives of the space. Finally, they sketched out the scenes they felt were most important.”

Those sketches were compiled into one large mural.

Groundswell, a non-profit that works with youth to envision and create public art, began the Navy Yards project in the spring with fourth-graders who painted a timeline of the Navy Yards from its beginnings through the depression era. Their work was unveiled at the end of May. Now, teenagers are picking up where they left off to complete the history.

And for the teenagers, who are paid by the hour to paint the wall, this is also a summer job.

“They are not only learning art,” Bergner said. “They are also learning to conduct interviews, do research, record oral histories and are getting experience in the job world.”

Groundswell also promotes art as a tool for personal healing and expression.

“Art is my outlet and it helps me to get out my stress and anger,” said Keyla Rijo, 16, who sat on a plastic milk crate to paint the wall. “Groundswell offers us the opportunity to sketch and paint on something other than our little notebooks.”