Summer has a certain nostalgic value about it. We tend to think instantly of childhood, of long summer days stretching out in front of us, empty except for the fun we decided to fill it with.
But for the youth involved in Groundswell the summer is far from empty. In fact, the summer for them represents the cumulation of everything they’ve spent the entire year working towards.
What is Groundswell? Groundswell is a non-profit dedicated to bringing together “artists, youth and community organizations to use art as a tool for social change.” The youth who attend their program come from New York City public schools and low-income or working-class families and learn, not just about the act and practice of public-art, but also how to discuss and give expression to ideas which they wouldn’t usually discuss.
What kind of ideas? Well, after reading all about Groundswell I can say that my favorite program is Voices Her’d Visionaries, partially for the hard-hitting issues that they cover. Voices Her’d is a year-long program for young women who have shown great leadership potential. During the year the group works together to explore critical issues to related to women, like immigration, militarization, poverty, incarceration, health, or safety.
During the summer, however, they pick one of the issues that they’ve explored and create large-scale public murals on those topics. Right now they’re working with artist Katie Yamasaki on a mural about consumerism in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, but my favorite mural of theirs was the one that they completed in 2008.
Featured above, the mural is entitled “Informed, Empowered” and sports a large banner with the words “We are not government issued” emblazoned across the top. The image is filled with parachutes bearing female soldiers to the ground where civilians help them to their feet, surrounding three young women armed with paintbrushes and diplomas. Hidden in the background are the statistics on female soldiers that the group found while researching, data on things like sexual assault, or mental health.
The 13 young women who made the mural wanted it to be a dialogue for all of the young women of color who worry about paying for college and are approached by recruiters who provide what looks like the only option. Throughout the year they spoke with former soliders, waded through mounds of data, and explored the issue with speakers and experts.
Yamasaki, the lead artist on that mural as well, put it simply when she said, “what would it be like to be governed by people who actually have our interests at heart? All young people should have choices that don’t come out of desperation.”
I can’t wait to see what they come up with this year.