| Public Art Nonprofit
Every issue, CURA seeks a local organization that is also invested in the arts to be our Social Justice Partner. This year we were proud to partner with Groundswell to fundraise for their Summer Leadership Institute, which brings together youth and working artists to create meaningful murals unique to their location. These funds support art-making materials, educational field trips, and stipends for youth participants. We’re honored to feature two of Groundswell’s amazing working artists, Chris Soria and Micaela Anaya, who have witnessed the benefits of this program first-hand.
We’d like to thank Robyne Walker Murphy, Aprille Russell, Chris Soria, and Micaela Anaya for their time and enthusiasm, and for allowing us to help them benefit the greater NYC community.
| Groundswell Artist
“I started with Groundswell in 2015, and I’m a self-taught artist. I came in with just one other young experience, so, fresh in that way, but I had experience as an educator.
I aligned with Groundswell in terms of its credo and mission to serve communities of color - to bring art to students that didn’t have access in their schools, and to use art as a tool for social justice. That’s what I’d been doing in my personal work, so it was an amazing moment for me to discover Groundswell and to come into the community.
The Thompkins project was done during my first summer working with Groundswell in 2016. I worked with Chris Soria. [Every year] Youth from all over the different boroughs sign up to work with the city in some capacity, and we are one of the providers they can elect to work with. So, we get youth from all over and typically there is an effort made to have some of our students be from the community that we will be working in (...) I don’t think we had any youth from Thompkins specifically, but they were from neighboring communities. Some of the issues that might’ve come up in their neighborhoods were similar, so there was still an access point in that sense. Our intention for every project is to take a temperature reading of what’s going on in the world. What would the community like to see? What are our youth responding to in terms of what we’re doing in the classroom from their vantage point, their ideas, the creative formations that are coming about?
Our first week of painting coincided with the unfortunate killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. So, that set a tone. It’s unfortunate that this is something for our youth, and for us all - that this becomes the headline that you see with some frequency. But, I think it was just a lot at once [at that time]. We were charged with figuring out how not to ignore that this is continuing to happen; that this injustice is prevalent, and that we were in a community where people can be profiled - I think this is when Stop and Frisk was still happening. [This was the] mindfulness that we had to bring to the community.
We were painting on a handball court, it was a community space, a space of reimagining, but it was also for kids. So, it was this mixture - how then to make a work that wasn’t going to ignore the harsh realities [of the present moment], but one that would also be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, holding space for the struggles that were happening but also be uplifting in some way - to be that mixture of feelings. We brought it back to our group, and they very beautifully began... I think it was from a group drawing. Someone did a ship, someone did a boat. And so, [the idea evolved into] being a captain of your own ship - one you can use to navigate yourself through your own path. And that was something that dovetailed into our wider concept. For our kids, this is also their reality. So it was not very far-fetched, they could relate. We ended up making the piece about that - about how to steer your ship; how to be the commander of your journey while also navigating these storms, while also being in community; being a young person trying to imagine your future in a bright way. On one side of the wall are two young people, and they are holding a portal together that’s a kind of swirl - a portal to the future that they’re trying to envision, to aspire to.
[On] the other side of the piece, the same two youth are holding each other through a storm. There’s a ship, and there’s a community again holding each other through. In the end we titled the whole piece Compass of Dreams. We wanted it to be something that gives the young people, gives everyone in the community, a breath of fresh air and is still a meditative piece to look at. [One that] also honors the fact that there are daily struggles and does not ignore that - To show the perseverance of a community. In the end we did find a decent balance of all the things that we were trying to encompass. We actually ended up painting the court itself, so if you took an aerial view it could literally be like a compass and a dial because there is a whole circle surrounding the wall. The whole sphere of the court itself and the wall that stands as the dial.”
“We often don’t have control over the imagery that we are surrounded by, the things that we see when we turn on the news or when you open a magazine - there is so much that we can’t control for as the public. So then, every time you walk on the street and instead of a row of ads there is a mural, there is just something in you that, I think even unconsciously, is lifted a little bit… is able to... breathe.”
“Mural as an art-form in general is trying to take the pulse of the public, to think of historical memory, and honor everybody. Something that we introduced the youth to is the history of public art - the history of Mexico and Social Realism. They were good at countering the romantic period of painting landscapes, or flowers, or religious symbols, or things that a rich person might’ve commissioned you to do. They were really countering that and they were painting the poor - the social struggles. They were doing that to show the realities; to not let things get swept under the rug. But, they were also doing it in a beautiful way, right? They were doing it in a sacred way - as a way to honor those who were going through it. I think that’s what we seek to do, ultimately. To [hold] a mirror to things and make it so that there is something uplifting in that [act]. I think especially now in the Trump era that our joy and anything we can derive peace from is a kind of resistance. So we hope to add to that.”
| Groundswell Artist
“I’ve been into art and art making since childhood, it’s always been my favorite thing. I’ve always been into drawing and painting. I didn’t really start painting till high school but certainly, by high school I was really into art, film and video, illustration as well as music and performance. I went to Long Island School of the Arts, I eventually went to art school at Parsons School of Design. I had done a few walls in high school and then eventually I started painting largely and on walls through my twenties.”
“I’ve lived in New York all my life and I’ve been in the arts community in New York City for a long time, working with numerous art organizations and communities, activist organizations in the community. Groundswell became familiar with a mural that I’d worked on. I’ve always enjoyed working with youth and at the time I was much younger myself. I really value and appreciate the collaborative art-making process and working with, not only other artists, but also with communities. [Since then] I’ve led numerous mural projects with Groundswell as a lead artist and teaching artist in the community, I’ve been working with them, I think , for about 10 years.”
“[It’s about] the importance of having a mike. Particularly for the youth - there are so many walls between us and society, and I think it’s a lot more important and beneficial to create bridges - to give youth the opportunity that they deserve to create something on a large scale amidst all this advertising and imagery that we’re bombarded with as spectators. It’s important to take up public space, and to use public space in a manner that is fertile soil for that to occur artistically, intellectually, socially - using art as a tool, using it as a form of service. [Art] that still has the opportunity to be interactive even after it’s finished has a lot of value and should be regarded with care. Certainly within the culture of a city such as New York, as well as in general within our communities.”
“I love using these visual metaphors for understanding the complexities of life. Certainly, in my work, I really love the use of perspective and I love exploring that in a workshop I’m always working with kids, some work with one-point perspective or two-point perspective, and how to explore that. As a metaphor the perspectives that we have in space and distance - that something gets smaller as it goes away, that it gets fuzzier as it gets farther away because there are actual particles between you and it, there are things like space and time between you and the subject, the angle that you look at it, the perspective that you have on something and how exploring that thing dimensionally is.”