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September 12, 2012
Harlem enlivened by colorful murals, eye-catching output of summer jobs program

Nonprofit Creative Arts Workshop for Kids teaches visual arts and provides job skills to uptown residents

by Douglas Feiden

Three color-splashed community murals that show the transformative power of art to better the lives of underprivileged kids have been unveiled in Harlem over the past month.

The eye-catching works were created as part of a summer jobs program in which youngsters - mostly from troubled backgrounds - were paid to pick up the paint brush and channel their inner Picasso.

A project of the nonprofit Creative Arts Workshop for Kids, which teaches visual arts and provides job skills to uptown residents, the murals are enriching their communities as well as the lives of the talented apprentices who created them.


The majority of our young artists have never painted before," said Brian Ricklin, the executive director of CAW. "But they have the power to inspire - and they've now had experiences they'll remember for the rest of their lives." 

Hailing from Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, 79 young artists, aged 14 to 24, were selected by lottery for the full-time, seven-week jobs creating large-scale public art. 

The workers, most of whom come from households with total incomes of less than $28,000 a year, were dispatched by CAW’s Summer ArtWorks Program to jazz up local schools, armories, courthouses and social service agencies.

Nearly 400 future Pollocks and Pissarros have painted their way through the program since it was inaugurated six years ago, creating 41 publicly accessible, mega-sized works in all the colors of the rainbow.

“It’s a way to encourage people to take ownership and share the wealth of their communities,” said Thomas Lunke, the director of planning at the Harlem Community Development Corp., the state agency that helped locate sites for CAW.

“It provides an educational tool, and by bringing economic growth and vitality and investment, it becomes an economic development tool that allows children to participate.”


Among the captivating new murals that have enlivened the face of Harlem this summer:
l “Work Works,” a 640-square-foot canvas installed in the Doe Fund’s Harlem Center for Opportunity, at 2960 Frederick Douglass Blvd., and celebrates the healing power of work.


The mission of the Doe Fund is to break the cycle of homelessness, addiction and crime through hard work, like cleaning the city’s streets. It’s an arduous task, but the 36-foot-long mural shows exactly how it can be done.


On the left side of the work sits a despairing man on a park bench, homeless and totally without hope, says George McDonald, the group’s founder and president.


But he goes to work sweeping streets, painting and serving food, and as his dignity is slowly but steadily restored, he is reunited with his child, whom he is now able to support.


“It’s all about moving from hopelessness to hope for the future,” McDonald said. “When people look at the mural now, they’ll see their story being told — and they’ll also see the path forward.”
l “Harlem Hellfighters,” a sweeping, 24-foot-long artistic epic that graces the 369th Regiment Armory, 2366 Fifth Ave., and portrays the 100-year history of the fabled unit.


The mural brings to life the uniformed African-Americans who made up the 369th, which served in France and became one of the most highly decorated regiments in World War I.


Known as the Harlem Hellfighters, or the Black Rattlers, the unit fought valiantly with the French Army because white U.S. soldiers were still refusing to serve alongside blacks in 1917.
l “Dreaming of A Creative Revolution,” a 133-foot-long work unfurled outside PS 192, the Jacob Schiff Elementary School at 500 W. 138th St., that inspires kids with fantasties and phantasmagorical images.


Complete with cloudbursts, floating hearts and an elephant who bicycles through the city, the mural “takes the viewer on a magical journey through a surrealist, whimsical realm of dreams, aspirations, imagination and possibility,” a CAW description says.







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