Prospect Heights

Underhill Walls — a  model grassroots project in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights —  has once again morphed. This time it is a canvas for 17 diversely enchanting murals reflecting the theme Urban Jungle. While visiting it last week, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions about Underhill Walls— its origins and more — to its indefatigable curator, Jeff Beler.

Underhill Walls continues to bring so much intrigue and beauty to this neighborhood. When did this project first begin?

The first set of murals surfaced here — at St. Johns Pl. and Underhill Avenue — back in the fall of 2015.

How were you able to access these walls? The concept is brilliant. It reminds me of the Centre-fuge Public Art Project that for years transformed an East Village eyesore — a neglected DOT trailer — into a rotating open-air street art gallery.

I live nearby, and I had been eyeing those walls for 10 years. They’d been ravaged by a fire, and they’d been neglected. I eventually contacted the owner of the three-floor abandoned building who was open to the concept of beautifying the property.

And then what? How did the actual transformation take place?

I started to put a team together. The first step was to build panels. And the first artists to participate in the project back in 2015 were: UR New York, Fumero, Badder Israel, Raquel Echanique, Col Wallnuts and Sienide.

Did you collaborate with any organizations at the time?

For our first project, we coordinated with the non-profit Love Heals. Titled “What’s Your Sign? Mural Project,” our first project’s mission was to raise public awareness for the HIV/AIDS crisis among  Black and Latino youth.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in seeing this project through these past few years?

Selecting artists with the right chemistry to work together. When that happens, everything flows smoothly and beautifully. And this is exasctly how “Urban Jungle” played out.

How often do the murals change?

Twice a year. Every May and October. Since 2015, we’ve had nine rotations.

What’s ahead?

So long as the panels are here, we will be here! And each project will continue to reflect a distinct theme.

Fabulous!

Images

1  Oscar Lett

2  Justin Winslow

Ralph Serrano (L) and Giannina Gutierrez (R) 

4  Jaima and Marco Santini collaboration

5  Nassart

6  Jeff Beler

7  Android and Miishab collaboration

8  Majo

Interview with Jeff conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos by Lois Stavsky

Keep posted to StreetArtNYC Instagram for more recent images from Underhill Walls.

Note: Hailed in a range of media from WideWalls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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When the students return tomorrow to PS9 — a public elementary school in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn — they will be greeted not only by their friends and their teachers, but, also, by a delightful array of murals fashioned by a wonderfully eclectic mix of artists. Curated by Jeff Beler, the STEAM Mural Project is a model of community arts engagement. While visiting the school, I had the opportunity to speak to Jeff.

Can you tell us a bit about the background of this project? What initially prompted you to organize the STEAM Mural Project?

Last October while I was installing the nearby Underhill Walls, a local neighbor stopped by and told me about the recent death of Clara Ely, a six-year old girl who had been a student at PS 9. I thought it would be a great idea to create some kind of outdoor memorial as a tribute to her. When I approached the principal of the school, Sandra D’Avilar, with my concept, she enthusiastically approved. And then this past spring a group of artists came together and created a series of murals celebrating Clara’s life. That was the beginning!

How did it the mural project expand from “Clara’s Garden” into something as extensive as what is happening now?

At the end of May, I was approached by PS 9 parent, Mike Tilley. He, along with other members of the local community, loved what we had done and encouraged us to continue what had been started.

And so when did the STEAM Mural Project officially begin?

It kicked off in June with 5th graders — under the supervision of  PS 9’s Visual Arts teacher — painting alongside Chris RWK and Zimad.

You’ve been working pretty much non-stop since the project began. What is it about the STEAM Mural Project that so engages you? 

I love kids, and I love art. I love how art communicates.  I’ve lived in this community for 13 years and curating this project gives me an opportunity to give back to a neighborhood that has given me so much.

You involved 75 artists in the STEAM Mural Project. How did you connect with so many?

Some are friends; others were suggested by friends, and several connected with me through Instagram. They saw what was happening, and they wanted to be a part of it.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in seeing this project through?

Because the community has been so supportive, the challenges have been minimal. Among them was making sure that all of the supplies — especially the ladders that were needed — were at hand.  Coordinating schedules was, also, a challenge, as was dealing with the unpredictable, sometime stormy, weather.

The local community seems to have been wonderful in terms of its enthusiasim and support!

Yes! It’s been 100% fantastic. People are forever saying, “Thank you!”

What’s ahead for the STEAM Mural Project?

Plans are now underway for a carnival that will take place on the grounds of PS 9 on Saturday, September 22. There will be DJ’s and live music and a chance for the entire community to meet and greet the artists. And a special reception will be held at 2:00 for the official unveiling of Zimer‘s portrait of Sierra Leone native and war survivor and Dutch National Ballet soloist Michaela DePrince with her sister in attendance.

And what about you? What’s ahead for you?

I’m involved with the upcoming Chile Pepper Festival that will take place at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on September 29th. I’m curating the next edition of Underhill Walls that will be installed in mid-October. I’m also organizing a mural project for PS 316 on Classon Avenue and Park Place.

It sounds wonderful! Good luck with it all!

Images:

  1. Vince Ballentine
  2.  Adam Fu
  3. Charrow and Sean Slaney
  4. Justin Winslow and Peter McMath
  5. PS 9 5th graders at work
  6. Chris RWK
  7. Zimer
  8. Miss Zukie
  9. Myztico Campo
  10. Jappy Agoncillo
  11. Jeff Henriquez
  12. Subway Doodle with a fragment of Fluidtoons on left

Photo credits: 1-4, 8-11 Lois Stavsky; 5 & 7 Jeff Beler, and 6 & 12 Rachel Fawn Alban

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made-street-art-nyc

The intersection of Underhill Avenue and St Johns Place was the place to be these past two weekends. Under the curatorial direction of Frankie Velez and Jeff Beler, over a dozen artists shared their talents, while delighting and engaging hundreds of passersby. The mural pictured above is the work of MADE.  Here are several more:

Another Biggie, this one by SacSix, with co-curator Frankie Velez to the right

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Allison Ruiz and Vanezza Cruz at work

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Albertus Joseph at work

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 JT Liss

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Ariana Febles

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Chris RWK

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Photos by Lois Stavsky

Note: Hailed in a range of media from Wide Walls to the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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"Meres and Seetf Graffiti"

Gracing Prospect Heights — a short walk from the Brooklyn Museum — is a wondrous wall fashioned last month by Meres One, See TF, Danielle Mastrion and NME. Here are a few more images:

NME and Meres

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 See TF

"See TF"

Danielle Mastrion

"Danielle Mastrion"

Photos by Dani Reyes Mozeson; the first photo features Meres One and See TF

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