Huge Hamilton Heights Mural Portrays History of Harlem

A portion of the mural "Magic with Logic." (DNAinfo/Jeff Mays)

HARLEM — After several weeks of working on the second largest mural in the history of the Creative Arts Workshop for Kids, a group of teenage artists unveiled their massive work, “Magic With Logic,” at P.S. 192 on Wednesday.

It is an effort to display some of the history and daily life in Hamilton Heights while also inspiring others, they said.

The birds represent freedom and striving on the multi-colored mural on 138th Street between Hamilton Place and Amsterdam Avenue. The elephants are the elders of the community who pass knowledge to the young people flipping, dancing and playing soccer nearby. And a sun is composed of people’s hands reaching out to the community and their own future.

“This mural is not just a mural,” said student artist Issac Normensinu, 17, who is visiting New York this summer from Ghana. “It’s the history of Harlem and we make history today.”

The bright yellows and reds of the mural along with its rabbits and birds nod to the fact that Barnum & Bailey circus used to call the area home. Men play dominoes in the artwork, just as they do blocks from the site. Even the local shaved iced vendor on the corner is depicted.

“This has meaning,” said Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation. “It tells your story, it tells my story.”

The students drew inspiration from Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and the poetry of poet William Braitwithe, a Sugar Hill resident.

“It just opened the doors of their imagination. Just seeing them get over their fears was amazing,” said poet J. Ivy, who has worked with Jay-Z, Kanye West and John Legend and partnered with the kids on a spoken word project that goes with the mural.

Visitors to the artwork will soon be able to scan a code with their smart phones to get a guided tour from the artists and hear some of their poetry and spoken word, said Brian Ricklin, executive director and CEO of Creative Arts Workshop for Kids.

Molaundo Jones, program director for Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, said the mural was about much more than art.

“This gives them a sense of how they can impact their community. When they were working on this and saw the way people have responded, it had more meaning,” said Jones.

The artists said they learned to work together.

“We were all a little shy because we felt we weren’t artists. We didn’t have the confidence,” said Tiguida Toure, 15.

But that changed as the mural came together.

“We became more than friends, we became a family,” said Richard Rosado, 19.

The community also chipped in. From the superintendent of the building across the street who helped put up the ladder everyday to the shaved ice guy on the corner who provided refreshment during blazing summer days, the community embraced the project, participants said.

In addition to the artistic experience, the kids involved with the mural — sponsored by advertising firm SelectNY — were also able to earn a paycheck.

Herwig Preis, SelectNY’s president and CEO, said he hopes to commercialize the mural into t-shirts or other items. He also offered each of the mural participants two week internships at his firm starting in the fall.

“Whatever you can dream of you can achieve,” Preis told the students.

Rep. Charles Rangel said the artists have made a long-lasting impact on their community.

“I can hear you bragging now to our kids, saying look what I did when I was young. I don’t blame you because it’s a gorgeous piece of art,” said Rangel.

Normensinu said the mural is something he’s going to remember for the rest of his life.

“It represents us, the people and culture of Harlem, and it’s going to live forever,” he said.

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Harlem River Park Artwork Designed by Local Artists and Kids

HARLEM — Tylik Mejia wasn’t that excited about an opportunity to work with the Creative Arts Workshops for Kids to design a mural to attract people to Harlem River Park.

“I declined at first because I said I’m not really an art person,” said Mejia, 15.

That’s when his mother, Kim Walton, 46, stepped in.

“I said you should try it because you just might like it. A few weeks later, he was coming home every day saying: ‘Ma you won’t believe this,” Walton said.

Mejia helped to design six banners that will hang on Fifth Avenue and beckon people to the park, and became so adept that he helped supervise his peers.

The banners, along with 15 etched steel plaques that will be installed near the water at Artist’s Cove at East 139th Street and Harlem River Drive, are part of an effort to beautify the park while creating a connection with the surrounding communities.

“The purpose of the banners is to act as an anchor to get people into the park,” said Richard Toussaint, a member of Community Board 11 who wrote the proposal for the park back in 1990.

The 20 acre park is being built in phases between the Harlem River and the Harlem River Drive from 125th to 145th streets.

Thomas Lunke, director of planning and development for the Harlem Community Development Corporation, which oversaw the project, said it’s part of an effort to make the park into a “relevant neighborhood asset.”

“We wanted to empower the community to express itself in the arts,” Lunke said.

The etched plaques, designed by artists such as Manuel Vega Jr., depict images representative of Harlem’s history and culture. Vega’s etching “Harlem River Ran-Kan-Kan” depicts Tito Puente. Another by Nora Mae Carmicheal called “Harlem’s Hellfighters,” depicts members of the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, the first African-American regiment to fight in World War I.

Harlem artist Misha McGlown designed a mixed media collage that shows a view from the park. It shows the state flower and rocks that represent the Harlem River.

“They have given so much thought to the ecosystem in the park,” McGlown said of her collage.

“The art brings an element of interest and exhibition quality to the park. It’s also a powerful learning tool,” she said.

The banners represent different elements of the park. One shows a fisherman and is based on a man who used to fish in the area before it officially became a park. Another represents some of the flowers found in the park. The young people involved in the project surveyed the area before deciding what elements to depict in the banners.

“It’s a very empowering experience for young people,” said Molaundo Jones, program director of Creative Arts Workshops for Kids. “They will see their work outside the park and think about the importance of what they did and how it helps the community. It reverberates in the rest of their lives.”

Mejia said he and his fellow banner creators had to learn not only about art and blending colors but about patience, working collaboratively with others and respect and self-respect.

“Once I got into the program, I thought to myself: ‘This art stuff is nice,'” said Mejia.

Now, he still wants to be an education lawyer but also sees possibilities as a graphic designer.

“It makes me feel that no matter what age, big or small, everyone can make a difference,” Mejia said.

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