Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Featured Profile: Groundswell Community Mural Project
By Cristiana Baik


Groundswell Community Mural Project, a nonprofit organization conceived by artist Amy Sananman in 1996, creates public art—colorful, mosaic murals—as a means to explore and the concerns, dreams, and histories of local communities. Groundswell’s goals are grounded on community involvement and collaboration: the murals speak in the way that art—in an age where art has largely become diluted products of commercialism and consumption—can still, in very public ways, facilitate conversations that center on community and social change. Murals completed by Groundswell’s youth artists can be seen throughout the city, from the Bronx to Brooklyn. A number of them can be found in Sunset Park.

With the exception of the resident artist (one resident artist is chosen to spear-head, mentor the youth artists involved in each mural project), all artists involved are youths (mostly students) between the ages of 14-21. Most of the artists come from working-class families, and each project strives to recruit artists who are local to the community in which the mural is commissioned for. Groundswell also respects the labor of all student artists, as each participant is also paid for their work and time.

The mural project, depicted in these photographs, is entitled “Building Better Tomorrows” (completed in the summer of 2007). Each one of the thirteen murals can be found lining the gated perimeter of P.S. 24, a bilingual public school (38th Street and 4th Avenue) in Sunset Park. “Building Better Tomorrows” was one of six projects commissioned and completed as part of Groundswell’s Summer Leadership Institute (SLI). The research process for this “Making His’tory” program (in conversation and collaboration with a mural completed the previous summer by young female artists in the “Voices Her’d” program) consisted of each young male artist interviewing immigrant fathers living in the neighborhood. Created from a process of collaborative oral history, then, the thirteen murals celebrate Sunset Park’s unique stories. They visually document a diverse range of experiences, exploring complex issues of US immigration laws, as well as diasporic transformations. These personal stories arise from a host of different cultures (the Dominican Republic, China, Mexico), and represent the compelling, complicated experiences that make Sunset Park a communal, urban arena of diversity and difference.

One Response to Featured Profile: Groundswell Community Mural Project

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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