On a recent radiant Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in Bushwick to paint a mural in celebration of Earth Day. Amanda Capobianco watched as adults, children, artists, and non-artists contributed to the increasingly vibrant wall at 125 Humboldt St.
“We had a vision, some things that we wanted to represent and a theme [of Earth Day] that we feel is important, but more importantly, we want people to feel that they’re adding to that, that they’re adding their colors of life,” Capobianco said. “Now they have this beautiful memory, as long as that’s up for.”
Capobianco sits on the board of directors of Sacred Arts Research Foundation, a Greenpoint-based nonprofit that aims to honor and keep alive native arts traditions across cultures. Leading up to Earth Day on April 22, the organization, which offers programming from sacred song classes to yoga to weaving workshops, realized it hadn’t yet done a community outreach project.
The staff at Sacred Arts contacted Artolution, a community-based organization that travels the globe to create positive social change through collaborative art making, and flew out its founders — who have taken their program to places like Syrian refugee camps and India to work with women affected by sex trafficking — to Bushwick.
Over two days, more than 300 people from all boroughs helped paint the white wall on the side of the Eastern District YMCA in North Brooklyn with bold primary colors. Stepping back, you see a whale and a sprawling tree with soulful eyes. Up close, you’ll see mini pieces within the lines: native symbols, stick figures, a house, even Pacman. Passersby would sing and bring cakes, lock up their bikes and jump into the action. A woman who works the night shift for the MTA and has always wanted to participate in an event like this arrived ready to paint at 9 a.m.
The mission was to bring “light and consciousness to the world through traditions that are happening for thousands of years, beyond time,” Capobianco said. “We are so out of balance; we’re disconnected from the earth, from the things that can heal us and bring us peace and nature. Living here in an urban environment, it’s hard to find nature. When we do, we don’t even know how to respond to it. We want to start a conversation.”
Even with Sacred Arts’ peaceful, positive outlook, large-scale events rarely occur without setbacks.
Just days before Earth Day, the team learned that legal issues stood in the way of painting the wall in Bushwick which a friend had offered for the project. The foundation had already been told it couldn’t decorate a wall outside its headquarters at 107 Green St., so for a moment, it appeared there were no options.
The staff reached out to the YMCA, which was around the corner and had been eager to get its members involved. Jonathan Serrano, the program director, made a few calls.
Born and raised in the neighborhood, Serrano said he was always happy to help the community. He had already made a call to friends and family to volunteer Sunday and confirmed schools were going to participate on Monday. Soon enough, he got the approval to paint a wall of his YMCA.
“Anything I can do to give back and continue to improve it is not only beneficial for me, but at the same time, something that helps the community,” Serrano said.
He recalls that one of the kids from the YMCA program came Sunday with her sister, where they spent much of the 9 a.m.–7 p.m. event painting.
“She definitely had a great time; she had paint all over her jacket,” Serrano said. She came back the next day with her schoolmates.
“For people on a beautiful Sunday, the first nice day of the year, to devote a nice, sunny day and then come back Monday to do the same…it was fantastic,” Serrano said. “So many people wanted to be around, and the fact that it brought so many people together…it was very inspiring.”