Welling Court Mural Project Transforms Neighborhood
The large industrial walls at the triangle where 12th Street, 30th Avenue and Welling Court in Astoria intersect have long presented to the area an image of urban blight, having been targeted over and over again by graffiti vandals. Some of the residents of Welling Court, in their frustration over the problem, as well as their desire to beautify the neighborhood, approached the business owners whose walls were affected, and received permission to have them adorned with murals.
Though other business and community groups in the city have solved their graffiti problems in a similar way, often expressing civic or cultural pride through mural art, the Welling Court residents went a slightly different route. A go-between connected them with Ad Hoc Art Gallery, which organized a group of more than 30 artists, many of them internationally known, to transform, not just the walls of Welling Court, but those that run along both sides of 30th Avenue, from 12th Street to Main, and around the corner on Main Street to the walls facing the Two Coves Community Garden. Ad Hoc aptly dubbed the event, “The Welling Court Mural Project”.
The artists descended on their cement canvases starting on Wednesday, May 19, and by the evening of Saturday May 22, the project was complete—a total of eight walls covered with artwork. In celebration of their transformed neighborhood, the people of Welling Court threw a block party, an annual event on the street for the past three years; this year planned specifically to coincide with the painting of the walls. The artists were fed while the various cultures represented on the street (Mexican, Peruvian, Ecuadoran, Brazilian, Italian, Greek, Guyanese, Korean and American among others) celebrated their work. Tables laden with enchilada casserole, tostadas, lasagna, chicken, rice, salads, snacks, desserts and drinks, lined the middle of the street as barbecue grills blazed. Luigi Pepe of Mira Auto Body Repair, one of the businesses that had its walls decorated, tended to the artists’ needs by opening a vacant apartment to them to serve as their headquarters. Other neighbors delivered cold drinks to the painters during the four hot days that they labored.
The images vary in style and theme: from artist Sweet Toof’s slightly disturbing clown with a wide, skull-like grin, to Ron English’s controversial mock-advertisements. There is an image of an Aztec-type warrior goddess by the artist known as Lady Pink, and whimsical paisleys by the artist whose nom de brush is Ellis G. Don Leicht painted a tribute to the Community Garden and Stevie Wonder with the stenciled message, “Your Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” while Tristan Eaton created a floating lady in black and white, an intricate design. There are large, classical paintings of birds on one wall and a giant raven’s head on another. Colorful geometric shapes, realistic human figures and strange abstracts are all portrayed.
The citizens of Welling Court expressed their delight with the project as they reveled with artists, friends and neighbors. Resident Beatriz Escarza exclaimed, “I really love it! It involves a little of everything: animals, people…it pleases everyone’s eye. Our country is a melting pot, especially here; people are from everywhere and these paintings represent that! I am happy!” Another Welling Court denizen, Costas Zangalis, originally from Greece, remarked enthusiastically, “It was about time to make a big change in our neighborhood!” Artist Lisa Renko, a native of Queens who’d come merely to observe, expressed regret that something similar didn’t seem likely to take place in her neighborhood in Jackson Heights. “For years I’ve walked around and wished for a miracle like this,” she mused. “I am really impressed.”
Garrison Buxton, owner of Ad Hoc Art Gallery along with his wife Alison, explained how they coordinated the project. “We came up with a list,” he said, “learning from years of working with these people. We thought of capping it with 15 or 20, but you put out invitations and it sort of expands. We were able to accommodate more people than we originally thought.” Referring to the neighborhood, he added, “The warmth and generosity the artists have received makes this so much better than any gallery opening. This is not only a growing experience for us and for the artists, but in the process the community grows as well.”
The artists involved with the project include: Alice Mizrachi, Chris Stain, Celso, Cern, Cey Adams, CR, Cycle, Dan Witz, Darkclouds, Daryll Peirce, Don Leicht, Ellis G, Free5, Gaia, Garrison & Alison Buxton, Greg Lamarche, JMR, John Fekner, Lady Pink, Leon Reid, Ludo, Matt Siren, M-City, Michael De Feo, Mr. Kiji, Pablo Power, Peripheral Media Projects, R. Nicholas Kuszyk, Remi/Rough, Ron English, Royce Bannon, Sofia Maldonado, Stormie Mills, Sweet Toof, Swoon, TooFly, Tristan Eaton, and Veng RWK. For more information about Ad Hoc Art Gallery and their work, visit www.adhocart.org.