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22-Year-Old Mural Restored on Upper West Side

By Emily Frost | August 19, 2015 6:46pm
 The mural was first painted in 1993 and was restored this summer. 
22-Year-Old Mural Restored
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UPPER WEST SIDE — An aging mural that originally covered a wall of graffiti got a facelift this summer as high schoolers from around the city worked to restore it. 

The 75-foot-long, 10-foot-high mural was first painted in 1993 on the side of a building on West 92nd Street at Broadway, but time and weather chipped the paint away and left it run down, residents said. 

About a dozen high school students from all over the city committed to reviving it this summer as part of a program run by the nonprofit CITYarts.

Flowers, insects and lines from the Alice Walker poem that inspired it — “The Nature of This Flower is to Bloom" — were repainted, and, in a few instances, sections were redrawn, the students said.  

Sky Phillips, 16, worried she'd be bored this summer with nothing to do, so she got involved with CITYarts, she said.

Some days the group played music while they worked and joked around, but for the most part "it was a lot of hard work."

"[Passersby] said, 'Thank you for doing this,' and 'It's good to see it's getting worked on," noted Phillips, who said she was proud to help the neighborhood. 

Before the mural was originally painted, the wall was covered with graffiti and dirt, creating "a filthy environment" in "an up-and-coming neighborhood," recalled CITYarts Executive Director Tsipi Ben-Haim.

"The community was constantly telling us about it — I would get all these calls," Ben-Haim said. 

So in 1993, students from the School of Visual Arts, high schoolers who were part of a now defunct program called the Liberty Partnership Program, and nearby residents got to work. 

They transformed the wall over more than three months of work, said Kin Lui, 39, who was part of the original project and returned Wednesday to see its restoration. 

"I was an inner-city kid and it gave us something to do," Lui said. "There were less-optimal choices we could have made."

Work on the mural moved much faster this time around, taking about a month. CITYarts got help from Benjamin Moore, which provided about 40 gallons of paint and helped the project leaders match the colors, said teacher and artist Janice Edelman-Lee.

In addition to helping kids find a purpose and a project in the arts, "the goal is to improve quality of life in the city," she explained.

Just like in 1993, Ben-Haim and CITYarts staff chose to restore the piece because of the demand and interest of neighbors, she said. 

Residents helped the nonprofit raise $5,000 toward its restoration through a Kickstarter campaign circulated in the community

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal chipped in $3,500 and the School of Visual Arts contributed another $3,000, but the project still needs another $8,000 despite the final touches being made Wednesday, Ben-Haim said.

The costs include insurance, paying the teachers, transportation for the students and equipment rentals, she said. 

This summer, CITYarts also restored four other murals, in Brooklyn, Harlem and the Lower East Side, Ben-Haim added.  

Those projects also involved high schoolers who wanted to make an impact, she said. 

"A kid that grows up in a place that inspires him will learn better, will try better... when kids create, they do not destroy."

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