Mental Health-Themed Mural Spans Bridge to Spread Message of Hope - Manhattan Express | Manhattan Express

Mental Health-Themed Mural Spans Bridge to Spread Message of Hope

On the south side of the street, the first part of the mural reads, “Some days I have to push myself / just to go outside / and walk to the park.” Photo by Julienne Schaer for the NYC Mural Arts Project.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | A vibrant and engaging mural designed to take on the stigma surrounding mental illness is spreading its message — 90 feet long and six feet high — along a once-gloomy pedestrian walkway.

Recently installed for permanent view across both sides of the Port Authority bridge on W. 34th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), the project is a collaborative effort between working artists, those living with mental health issues, and members of the community.

The mural’s debut at a July 24 ribbon-cutting ceremony was the culmination of months of work at Fountain House Gallery, under the guidance of lead muralist Andrew Frank Baer and the auspices of the New York City Mural Arts Project, itself sponsored by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

The Port Authority “had these gray walls that had been there for years. They were thrilled to offer their space for this colorful mural,” Dr. Myla Harrison, DOHMH’s assistant commissioner for mental health, said by phone.

Harrison, who oversees the mural arts project, said the mural “looks great” and is “pretty compelling,” and that reactions from the community have been positive. “We are thrilled about how well it went — from an idea to three completed murals,” said Harrison, referring to two other murals in the Bronx that were also part of the project.

When NYC Community Media reported on the project earlier this year (“At Fountain House Gallery, Art Frames Focus on Mental Health,” April 6, 2017), it was almost at the point of the design review. Ariel Willmott, gallery director for Fountain House Gallery, said that after the design review they moved into what was called the “deploy” phase of the project.

“For me, this was the highlight of the project. We transformed Fountain House Gallery into a mural-making factory! The floors were covered with brown paper and from floor to ceiling the walls were transformed with the printed mural design on sheets of polytab,” she said in an email.

She added, “It was mesmerizing to witness the progress each day as color was added to the black and white designs and exciting to have the gallery activated into a participatory painting extravaganza!”

On the north side of the street, the text reads, “Say hello! / We can embrace ourselves / and open doors / together.” Photo by Julienne Schaer for the NYC Mural Arts Project.

The gallery (located at 702 Ninth Ave., btw. W. 48th & 49th Sts.) was open during this period, and many members of nearby Fountain House — an organization that helps those living with mental illness — became regular painters of the mural, working alongside drop-ins from the neighborhood. This aspect of the project, Willmott noted, “contributed to a spirit of community engagement. I often would take a break from my work and grab a paintbrush and contribute to the painting process.”

Among those who attended the July 24 ceremony was Anthony Christopher Newton. Self-described as “a proud artist living with schizophrenia,” Newton created the main character seen throughout the mural, whose journey from isolation to sharing his art with others is, said Willmott, “very familiar to many of the artists from Fountain House Gallery.”

“The narrative to this central character,” said Newton, “is to show that nothing can stop or hold you down from accomplishing your dreams no matter the circumstance. … I pray that I touch every soul who walks by this mural and finds hope to persevere in such incredible times. We will never admit defeat, but use our spirituality to endure our most difficult moments and find the love of living.”

For more information, visit the websites of the NYC Mural Arts Project (nycmap.org), Fountain House Gallery (fountainhousegallery.org) and Fountain House (fountainhouse.org).

At Fountain House Gallery, artists work on a section of the mural featuring a character created by Anthony Christopher Newton, who says it functions as “a visual explanation to a personal stigma of living with schizophrenia.” Photo ©NYC Mural Arts Project, DOHMH / Burroughs Lamar.

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