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Painting the Town Rainbow

The World Mural Project brings queer public art across the city

Sam Kirk and Jenny Q’s mural tribute to Victoria Cruz on Second Street at Avenue A.
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Pride comes in many colors. For 50 diverse international artists, those colors will be sprayed, brushed, and splashed across all five boroughs as part of the World Mural Project (worldpridemuralproject.org).

The project is one of the cultural highlights of NYC Pride in this milestone year, when the community marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising. The commemoration also introduces WorldPride to the US for the very first time — a sort of Olympics of Pride that occurs every two years in different cities — and with it comes a wide array of concerts, rallies, parties, and ever more reasons to rejoice in all things queer.

The World Mural Project is a WorldPride NYC/ Stonewall 50 highlight that stands apart from much of the revelry by bringing LGBTQ-inspired street art to 50 sites. Created uniquely by different artists painting in designated spaces, each mural portrays a story or visual that honors the LGBTQ community.

The project also helps compensate for a notable lack of LGBTQ public art in New York City, which is limited to just a few pieces. Among them are George Segal’s 1980 “Gay Liberation” sculptures in Christopher Park and Jo Davidson’s 1923 statue of Gertrude Stein in Bryant Park. Of course, plenty of queer art can be viewed in collections and exhibitions — and year-round at Soho’s Leslie-Lohman Museum, and the city has just announced a West Village monument to longtime activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

For the mural project, the organizing team at NYC Pride sought to use art to reflect the community’s beauty, struggle, and strides.

“Having WorldPride in the US for the first time, NYC Pride really wanted to provide not just events but a cultural experience for people coming here from around the world,” said Cathy Renna, an NYC Pride spokesperson. “The way to do that was to create a physical manifestation of all the diversity in our community, and have that not be just in one neighborhood or one borough — they’re all over. The wonderful thing is you can go to Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and see very diverse public artworks made by an extraordinary set of LGBTQ and allied artists.”

To help recruit the 50 artists and secure the mural sites, NYC Pride worked with the LISA Project, a non-profit that began turning Little Italy into a mural-arts district back in 2012. Their work has now grown well beyond Mulberry Street and was integral to organizing the World Mural Project.

“The LISA project is really on the vanguard in working with muralists and urban artists,” said Renna. “They put the call out to the artist community, and they got tremendous response from individuals who are incredibly established in this medium.”

Among them is local artist Buff Monster, whose murals are all over New York and other cities. His newest piece now adorns an enormous, 31-by-94-foot wall at 125 Chrystie Street, at Broome Street, in Chinatown. Titled “Rainbow Harmony,” his brightly colored characters and trademark one-eyed creatures represent the struggle and triumph of the LGBTQ community. As an ally, Buff Monster said he’s proud to show solidarity, along with a dose of optimism that can “fill a need for color and brightness” in an urban environment.

At 152 East Second Street at Avenue A, Sam Kirk and Jenny Q, two women who are artists and partners, painted their tribute to Victoria Cruz on a 10-by-33-foot residential wall. Cruz is a Puerto Rican transgender woman who’s lived in New York since age four and devoted much of her life to activism dating back to the Stonewall era. Now 72, she remains involved with the Anti-Violence Project and is part of David France’s Netflix documentary “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson,” which chronicles Johnson’s LGBTQ activism along with that of Cruz and Rivera.

“In thinking about the concept initially,” Kirk explained. “I really wanted to pay tribute to somebody who has contributed to helping people over the years. And while I think it’s important to honor those who have passed, I also realize the importance of highlighting people who are alive today, so they get some acknowledgement for all they’ve done.”

Kirk, who splits her time between New York and Chicago, said that she has yet to meet Cruz, but hopes she’ll consider coming from her Brooklyn home to view the mural. Kirk and Q’s piece portrays Cruz in full color, centered on a backdrop Transgender Flag colors, and a rich outer narrative.

“The background will be covered with illustrations of moments, places, marches — and I’m including illustrations of Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera in the piece, with references to the organizations they created,” Kirk said, adding that the mural also represents “a celebration of the community, to enjoy some happy moments too, and to show some of the reasons why so many people have done the work they’ve done.”

Through June, the murals are steadily being painted at locations large and small, all listed on the project website — worldpridemuralproject.squarespace.com/locations — including walls inside the Arlo Hotel in Soho on Hudson Street at Broome and the Arlo NoMad on East 31st Street.

Each work is expected to remain up at least through summer, though most will probably be around until the end of 2019 or beyond. Renna encourages New Yorkers and visitors to make a point of checking out these vivid displays and sharing selfies and other snaps across social media.

“To me this is one of my favorite things happening for WorldPride,” said Renna. “These murals are longer lasting than any individual event, and they’re all over the city. Even if you’re not participating in Pride in some way, it’s going to be hard not to walk by a giant work of public art that lets you know something special is happening for WorldPride here in New York.”

Check out what else is happening across New York in 2019 for WorldPride NYC and Stonewall 50 at: 2019-worldpride-stonewall50.nycpride.org.

Updated 4:49 pm, June 19, 2019
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