Standing where there once was a sea of graffiti and trash, students and community leaders celebrated a new mural in Umma Park (Woodruff and Ocean Avenues) yesterday and said the incredible transformation of the space has done everything from empower children and teens who designed and painted the piece to help deter crime in an area that has been hit hard by violence this summer.
“We responded to a call from the community: ‘Please come help us; we have a problem,'” said Tsipi Ben-Haim, Executive and Creative Director of CITYarts, which collaborated with the Umma Group — a neighborhood organization founded by now District Leader Ed Powell, the Flatbush Development Corporation, the city Parks Department, and Community Board 14 to make the mural a reality.
In the works for a couple years, the mural — which covers a giant wall in the park — was developed and created by about 600 people between the ages of 9 and 18 years old — including students from Ditmas I.S. 62, the Flatbush Development Corporation and neighborhood children who use the space. Artist Damien Mitchell, who has painted murals across the city, helped to lead the project and began to plan the creative endeavor with students and others around March and started painting the wall in June.
Much of the project has been completed, though painting is continuing, and CITYarts — which has created 300 urban murals around the globe — is planning on creating a mural on the final piece of wall that hasn’t been painted in the park.
The change is a dramatic one, with the mural taking up what was once a graffiti-covered wall lined with trash.
“It was tagged up pretty heavily and just looked crap,” Damien said. “It wasn’t inviting. But having it look nice is one thing, but really importantly, it was everyone working together. We had so many kids involved — kids from summer programs, kids just passing by who use this playground.”
Jetoyé Andrews, one of the student leaders from the Flatbush Development Corporation who helped with the mural, said this helps children and teens feel proud of their community.
“It’s a way for us to artistically develop ourselves,” she said. “I feel as though now we can say we have evidence of contributing to the community.
“For us, this is an example of how, when we come together, no matter your age, we can create something spectacular,” Jetoyé continued.
The combination of a more inviting space — which leads to less graffiti, less trash and more people using the area — and community members feeling a greater sense of pride and ownership in park also helps to deter crime, 70th Precinct Detective Dominick Scotto said. This sense of optimism, neighbors said, is particularly important at a time when there have been a number of violent crimes in the area, including a 22-year-old father who was fatally shot in the head on Crooke Avenue.
“This is empowering for people here,” Tsipi said. “Forever this wall will be a constant reminder for kids in the community that they’ve entered the right track… They see how the community reacts to them, how the community is saying thank you. They become productive individuals.”
Dorothy, a neighbor who routinely uses the park, said she has already seen a change in the space because of the mural.
“You’d see a lot of broken glass, trash everywhere,” she said. “It’s nicer now. I think it’ll stay nicer too.”
There are still issues with people using the park at night because it isn’t locked after dark — something which the 70th Precinct and the Parks Department said they aim to change.
CB 14 District Manager Shawn Campbell emphasized how the mural is emblematic of a tight-knit neighborhood that is constantly working to make the area better.
“Any time you beautify a place, you’re reinforcing all the positive things that take place in a community,” Shawn said, adding that making a park more inviting in our area is particularly important because CB 14 has one of the lowest number of people who have access to green space within a quarter mile in the city.
Additionally, Shawn noted that she hopes the mural will be a stepping stone for the city allocating more capital funding to improve the park’s facilities.
If you’d like to see the mural for yourself, Damien noted that almost every Saturday, neighbors gather for potlucks at the park. There’s no set time for the events,but if you drop by in the afternoon, you’ll likely get a chance to meet your neighbors – or, at the very least, get to see the beautiful new artwork that is making a difference to so many in our community.