Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peace is Not a Dream in Storage

The Rite Aid at the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and 10th Street in Park Slope has come in for its share of abuse on this blog.

But only when we read On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City by Janet Braun-Reinitz and Jane Weismann did we realize the role this Rite Aid played in another nasty fight over a community mural in Park Slope.

5th Avenue & 10th Street, SW corner

Our last post reviewed the unfortunate events surrounding the destruction of Mary Patten's First Street Mural in 1977. Park Slope was apparently to wait over 20 years for its next community mural, and it too was destroyed prematurely because of the opposition of nearby residents.

The 10th Street mural was organized by the new Groundswell organization, incorporated in 1998. Peace is Not a Dream in Storage was a response to a series of attacks on women using the 9th Street/4th Avenue subway station in 1999. Groundswell organized a group of teen-aged girls from the nearby Center for Anti-Violence Education to serve as the mural's artists. According to the authors of On the Wall:

Not until the mural was finished did objections -- never previously expressed -- arise from a small segment of the community. Cultural differences and fears about race, gentrification, and property values ultimately led to the mural's destruction.

At the mural dedication, amidst the controversy, the young artists eloquently stated the mural's intent and what they hoped it would achieve: "We wanted to send a strong message that problems need to be solved, not hidden away in a box... We want to publicly express our cumulative disgust with violence...

Instead of entering into a dialogue with the artists and the mural sponsors, a small group of residents circulated a petition demanding that Rite Aid "remove this insulting and ugly mural" because, in the words of one homeowner, "it makes "our 'hood look ghettoish".

A Rite Aid representative, to his/her credit, initially backed the mural and tried to facilitate a meeting between Groundswell, the artists, and nearby residents, in order to resolve differences. A series of talks and meetings dragged on for months. Ultimately Rite Aid turned against Groundswell and the artists, and the mural disappeared under a coat of whitewash.

A contemporary account of the controversy can be found in the New York Times archive, here.

One begins to suspect, after the premature destruction of Mary Patten's First Street Mural, and of Groundswell's Peace is not a Dream in Storage, more than 20 years later, that Park Slope is particularly inhospitable to community murals. Why is that, we wonder?

One also suspects that Ride Aid's corporate policies were soon changed to preclude any possibility that such an unpleasant situation could ever recur. The idea that a store manager would even permit a community mural to be painted on the side of the store seems almost quaint these days. Even if he or she liked the idea, one suspects the current corporate policy says, in effect, that "no unauthorized store decoration shall be undertaken by any manager" and that failure to comply with this policy is tantamount to "voluntary resignation".

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