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Two Murals, One Wall: A Dispute Between Muralists Ends With One Project Moving Forward

Volunteers cleaning the area near the wall (Photo courtesy of Yvonne Shortt)

Sept. 7, 2018 By Tara Law (Edited 9/8)

A dispute between two muralist teams about the rights to paint on a neglected wall on Yellowstone Boulevard between Austin Street and Burns Street has been resolved by the wall’s owner— the MTA.

The wall became the source of controversy earlier this summer when the two teams of muralists declared that they had competing claims to paint there. 

While one of the teams envisioned painting a geometric ode to the community’s diversity, the other team planned to create a mural honoring Helen Keller.

The two projects were planned separately, and funded by different means— the Keller mural by Councilmember Karen Koslowitz’s office, and the other mural by the nonprofit Citizens Committee for New York City.

This August, the MTA made a final decision. The muralists planning the abstract painting had already submitted their design to the MTA, but the organizers of the Keller mural did not. 

The MTA offered Michael Perlman, coordinator of the Keller mural and the chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council, the opportunity to share the wall, but he declined.

Yvonne Shortt of arts nonprofit RPGA Studio, who is helming the abstract mural project, said that

Digital rendering of Shortt’s mural. The background will be yellow and red, Shortt said (Image: Yvonne Shortt)

she wishes that Perlman had considered sharing the wall.

“We’re sorry that it did not work out,” said Shortt. “I have nothing but positive things to say for Michael.”

According to Perlman, the Keller mural had been precisely measured for the wall, and reconfiguring or shrinking the design was not an option. He added that he felt that the two murals would not look appropriate together.

Perlman acknowledged that he is looking for another location for the Keller mural. 

“Now that I think of it, it is a depressing spot for a Helen Keller mural, especially since she aimed to brighten the world in various ways including her mission to remove social stigmas,” he wrote.

Shortt said that her team and community volunteers will begin to prime the wall on Sept. 15. The team will paint a background color on the wall and lines to guide the placement of the mural.

Then on Sept. 30, community members will gather to paint the mural on panels. The mural panels will then be hung on the underpass wall per Long Island Railroad rules, Short said.

The grid design will feature flowers from around the world and the words “love, respect, tolerance and resilience,” in different languages. 

Shortt said that the project’s central themes were prescient. 

On July 6, an unknown individual painted the Star of David in black on the underpass, police said. Although the symbol is a common gang sign, some members of the community interpreted the graffiti as anti-Semitic, Shortt said.

Volunteers from the community and Shortt’s team have worked throughout the summer to help clean the area, which was overgrown and covered with garbage.

Shortt’s team is working with the police department and the community board to assure that totaled cars are not stored at the underpass for significant periods of time, she said.

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Bashie Laster

Yes indeed! Yvonne Shortt does incredible work for our community.

But let’s not forget Mark Laster, Community Activist, who was instrumental in “planting the seeds” for this project!


Yvonne Shortt does so much good work in our neighborhood.
We are lucky to have her. Thank you!!

curator at the Met

Like Shortt I, too am proud of our community’s diversity and pro-diversity messages are important under Trump but that mural looks wack. To be fair even if Helen Keller was campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism and antimilitarism idk if it would have been a great mural.


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